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the relative-age effect

"Plan effective coaching sessions that both challenge and support..."

catalan managing difference

Relative-age effect refers to the difference in chronological age between children that play togehter in the same age grouping . Traditionally, competitions are organised in a ways that allows players to pariticpate against others who are of a similar age, which for most children means competing against those in the same school year. It does, however, mean that within the year group some players can be chronologically 12 months older than other - a significant development bias.

whats the best way to cater for june, july and against born players?

Good question! The relative-age effect, or birth bias, is heavily influential on young players and their experience of football. Being the smallest and/or youngest in the group can be a real struggle for some children. Coming to terms with their size can be a very real problem for Summer born children, in the worst cases it can even cause them to dropout of playing the game. Coaches should be mindful of these issues and aim to support individuals children with appropriate session content and intervention.

Although relative-age can be detrimental for some players, it can be the making of others. Younger and smaller players can become master of the ball in their struggle to survive - technically proficiency being the primary weapon in their arsenal. Any boxer with a weight disadvantage will tell you, you must be very fast with your hands and very good at dodging! The same goes for young footballers. Their lower centre of gravity and need to think quicker can be the catalysts for what many call 'magic feet'. For every player that flowers into a nippy little trickster, there are others that simply give up purely because they feel physically outmatches.

As a general rule, September to December born children develop their speed, strength, emotional and intellectual abilities before their peers. These players are favoured by the typical age categories set down by leagues, schools and academies. They are likely to have the edge, in more ways than just one. Let's be honest, in football every edge you can get counts, significantly. These older players will usually stand out in training and particularly Sunday matches. Perhaps they are geneuinely more capable players, or perhaps they just have 11 months on the kids that they are playing with? Observe your older players carefully there can be a risk of them using their physicality too often.

For example, you may observe these players always backing in to spin a defender, and rarely opting to drop off and receive on the turn. This can manifest into lazy and overly physical play, as a result of which they may never practice how to pull off defenders, make clever runs, or develop a high level of technical mastery with their feet.  It can benefit these players significantly to play with older players from time to time. This culture shock can be a rewarding wake up call to older players that are used to having things all their own way. They have to think more, and demonstrate a healthy respect for the capacities of those around them.

an equal playing field - adapting practice

If coaches want to get the best out of every player in their training session they will need to have a range of strategies up there sleeve. Here's how you might offset the effect of relative-age and in turn better meet the needs of your oldest and youngest players:

- Group by physical maturity from time to time in training sessions. Let the big kids play against the other big kids, and have a parallel small sided game for the smaller players. The results may surpirse you!
- Be responsive to players' body language during sessions. If a younger player looks like hes having a hard time, he probably is! Consider giving him a different role in the session that is less physically, emotionally or intellectually challenging.
- Condition your biggest/oldest players to none-contact tackles. See if they can out-smart the smaller kids, rather than relying on the ability to outmuscle them. Even things up a bit and see if they are dependent on their physicality.
- Experiment by playing with smaller footballs, in smaller spaces, with smaller goals and keep distances to a minimum in your practice. This can can expose and give a better reflection of your older players' level of skill.
- Outnumber the older kids. Play 4v3, 3v2, even 2v1 in favour of the smaller players. The first thing the older players will say is "It's not fair". Tell them either is playing against someone 11 months older and wiser every week!

Children come in all different shapes and sizes. Just because a child is born in September, it doesnt neccessarily mean that he will be much bigger than the younger players in his age category. However, coaches that have educated themselves will have the tools they need to deal with things effectively when they are faced with the indicators of birth-bias. The best coaches can identify and address any chronological imbalance in their squad, and make sure they are prepared to deliver coaching sessions with the birth-bias in mind.

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