The relative age effect on competition performance of Spanish international handball players: A longitudinal study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionFrontiers in Psychology. 2021, 12(2021), Artikkel 673434. 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.673434
Background: Competitive success is the ultimate objective of elite professional sport organisations. Relative age effects (RAE) impact athlete selection processes in the short and long-term performance. The aims of this study were: (i) examine the presence of RAE by gender, competitive level, and playing position, as well as evaluate the impact of RAE on individual (goals, percentage of effectiveness in shots, saves; percentage of effectiveness in saves, assists, turnovers, steals, blocked shots, penalties, minutes played, and minutes played per match) and collective competition performance (final team position); and (ii) analyse the impact of RAE on the evolutionary trends of individual performance in international competitions throughout 16 seasons in Spanish handball (2005–2020). Methods: The sample included 631 Spanish handball players (male: n = 359; female: n = 272). A Chi-square goodness-of-fit test was used to assess whether a skewed birthdate distribution occurred. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) of independent measures was used to examine the individual and collective statistical parameters by birth quartiles. A linear regression in a Hopkins sheet were performed to compare individual performance trends. Results: The results revealed RAE in the male formative categories (p < 0.001), as well as the male and female senior categories (p < 0.05). By position, RAE especially affected the “centre-back” in the male formative (p < 0.01) and senior categories (p < 0.05). No significant relationship between RAE and individual performance was found in male formative categories, while an impact of RAE on the “minutes played” was detected in the female senior category (p < 0.05). With regard to collective performance, a higher number of relatively older handball players was observed in the best ranked teams in the male formative categories and in the quarter-final teams in the female formative categories (p < 0.05). Among the male players, relatively older players spent more minutes on the court than relatively younger players, although this advantage dissipated over time and did not lead to better performance. Among the female players, relatively younger players were found to perform better as the level of competitive handball increased. Discussion: These findings are important for talent identification and development policies in sport federations and other elite sport institutions by demonstrating the many unintended consequences of selections to international competitions at the youth level.
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