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Do you want to use one of the simplest, quickest ways to increase participation ?

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Imagine the problem that parents have in trying to find a place in a grassroots football club which insists in having 'trials' or 'tryouts' for their young son or daughter who just happens to have a birthday at the end of the registration period for the league or competition in which the club plays.

This registration period in the UK normally mirrors the school academic year ( September - August ) so in the UK this would refer to children born in the last quarter of the year ( June, July & August = Q4 birth dates in the UK ) In many other countries the registration period is the calendar year ( January - December ) and thus Q4 birth dates would be October, November & December

Parents of children of Q4 birth dates therefore have a problem in finding opportunities in grassroots football clubs for their children because of the RELATIVE AGE EFFECT (RAE)

In Fact such parents will have a problem in finding a place in ANY competitive grassroots sports programme which insists on trials or tryouts! So there ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITIES for innovative Grassroots Football Organisers and Entrepreneurs

This blog is therefore for anyone who wants to QUICKLY increase the number of participants in their grassroots football programme.

If you're not interested in growing and retaining the numbers of players in your programme - DO NOT READ ON !

In this blog we will highlight the following aspects:

  1. What really is the Relative Age Effect (RAE) ?

  2. What is the evidence to confirm RAE affects grassroots football?

  3. How does RAE start ?

  4. Which grassroots programmes appear to be immune from RAE ?

  5. How can I verify this for my own football club or programme ?

  6. What are some myths associated with RAE ?

  7. How to minimise RAE and maximise participation ?

  • Attract more new players

  • Retain existing players at a higher level

  • Enrol previous players who had dropped out back into grassroots football

What examples of innovative good practice are available ? like the Late Birthday Project

  1. What really is the Relative Age Effect (RAE) ?

Dr Laura Finnegan is one of the world’s leading Relative Age Effect (RAE) experts in football, and she most eloquently describes RAE as "a preference for selecting footballers born earlier in the year, often due to enhanced maturational factors (being bigger, faster, stronger physically but also are often more cognitively and emotionally mature) over their teammates born later in the year.”

Also See the Video below

2.What is the evidence that RAE affects grassroots football ?

  • This review of RAE in football is probably the most comprehensive for over 30 Studies covering thousands of players throughout the world

  • In this article here it highlights an English Football Academy that "of the 121 players recruited ( at Under 9 years of age ), 8 were born in Q4, whereas 69 were born in Q1"

  • In this study of young Belgian grassroots players in 1998, Helsen found that from 12 years old, there were a higher number of dropouts from those players born toward the end of the selection year.

  • In this study by Nicolas Delorme he reviewed data at the end of the 2007–2008 season using the birthdates of 363,590 French male players licensed during the 2006–2007 season but who had not renewed their licence for the following season. The data was collected through the database of the French Football Federation. For the crucial Under 9 age range, the dropout rate for Q3 and Q4 birthdates was 12% greater than Q1 and Q2 birthdates. At Under 11 and Under 13, the difference was 8% at each age range.

So across the Under 9 to Under 13 age groups, the data shows a 30% greater dropout rate for Q3 and Q4 birthdates.

As Delorme concluded, "There is a ‘‘self-restriction’’ which exists, by which children born late in the competitive year do not even start to practise this sport, when children born in the first part of the year are over-represented among beginners. The relative age effect thus has two potential influences on involvement: on the one hand, children born at the end of the competitive year are dissuaded to engage in sport, while on the other, those who do engage are more prone to drop out a few years later."

RAE has been shown to be prevalent in all sports which introduce early competitive formats and there is evidence that RAE can also be a contributing factor with problems experienced by children in relation to Academic Achievement, Numeracy Obesity, Mental Health and Depression

To download a copy of this report from 2020 please see the bottom of this blog post

3. How does RAE start ?

According to researchers Jochen Musch and Simon Grondin ( download here ) , competition is a necessary precondition for RAE to emerge. Thus if there is no selection and no competitive selection year, RAE will not be evident. Musch and Grondin also noted that ‘‘the larger the pool of potential players, for a given sport in a given category, the stronger the resulting RAE should be.’’ So, RAE will be more prevalent where there is a selection from a large pool of players rather than from a smaller pool of players.

RAE is therefore accelerated when these tactics are used :

  • Trials and Try outs

  • Releasing players

  • High emphasis on the results of games from an early age

  • Unequal Playing Time

4. Which Programmes are immune to RAE ?

Those programmes which do not encourage early selection e.g.

  • Holiday Courses and Camps

  • Informal, 'Pick Up ' Football

  • Skill Tests

5. What can I do to check this for my own football club or programme ?

  • Get a list of all children on your current programmes and divide them according to what month they were born.

  • Divide the months of the year into 4 quarters e.g. Quarter 1 = January , February & March

  • Analyse this data - For which Quarters are we strong or weak ?

  • Where are the Strengths and Weaknesses ?

  • Where are the Opportunities for Growth ?

Then repeat the same process on annual basis tracking retention rates of players born in the respective quarters

If you have data from previous years then track to see the rate of retention v birth dates

  • Where are the Strengths and Weaknesses ?

  • Where are the Opportunities for Growth ?

6. What are some myths associated with RAE ?

  • It only affects boys Girls as well : evidence of RAE in Girls Grassroots Football is shown in this comprehensive study of over 30,000 players in Canada

  • Late Born players are always slow to grow : The stature of a player is a result of a number of factors ( e.g. genes, diet,lifestyle etc) and not least because of the maturation cycle for that individual which . Maturation differs across all players whenever they are born. Individuals born late in the registration period may have some catching up to do with regard to cognitive and social skills but all late birthdate players are not automatically small players

  • Late Born players are Late Developers : Individuals mature at different rates. There is evidence of late birthday players being sensational teenage players ( e.g Gareth Bale ) but overall as we shall see there is some evidence that late developers tend to have late birthdates

  • Bio Banding solves RAE : Bio Banding involves matching players of similar physical maturity whether they are late birth dates or not. Bio Banding doesn't attempt to band players with regard to cognitive skills

7. How to minimise RAE and maximise participation

The diagram below is a summary of this research paper by a number of Spanish Researchers

See this excellent article from the Ministry of Football on

You may also like to download these research papers below :

What about the changes made by US Soccer on Cut Off Date Policy ? See below an article on

which summarises the changes as 'While one objective of this policy change was to combat RAEs, previous research suggests this organisational change will only shift which group of athletes experience relative age (dis)advantages'

For what is worth our view is that the ' Late Birthday Project ' is the most innovative programme we have seen in Grassroots Football to maximise participation to attract new players, retain existing ones and encourage those who dropped out because of RAE to return

If you are thinking of building a Grassroots Football Startup to maximise the opportunities of RAE then our online course can help you. Details here

  • What are the Course Benefits ?

On completion, all participants will take away a range of benefits including:

  • How to Identify and Quantify a ‘gap’ in the grassroots football market

  • How to use simple Data analysis strategies to obtain additional insight

  • Learn Easy Steps to launch your programme

  • How to Finance your Project

  • Developing an idea into a Business Plan suitable for potential investors

  • Obtaining confidential feedback to your Business Plan

What to do next -

1.50% ‘Early Bird' offer until May 31st 2022 will be £35 ( $49). To take advantage of this offer Click here

2. From June 1st 2022 the cost of the course will be £75 (approximately $99)

3. Participants on the course can complete the course at their leisure over 6 months OR complete all the tasks on course within 28 days and receive a Full 100% refund

And you can subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter here to receive the latest industry news and analysing trends dedicated to maximising grassroots football participation

Download PDF • 486KB

As a follow up to this blog please see this short video below on: "Relative age effect players - market value"

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