The relative age effect in female gymnastics: A flip-flop phenomenon

David J. Hancock *, Janet L. Starkes ** and Diane M. Ste-Marie ***

(*) Indiana University Kokomo, Kokomo, Indiana, USA
(**) McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
(***) University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


J. Hancock, D., L. Starkes, J., M. Ste-Marie, D. (2015). The relative age effect in female gymnastics: A flip-flop phenomenon. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 46(6), 714-725. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2015.46.714


Relative age effects are pervasive throughout sport; however, little is known about how relative age interacts with other mechanisms of expert performance such as sports characterized by young ages for peak performance. The purpose of this study was to examine relative age effects in gymnastics, a sport where athletes reach peak performance during puberty. Examining the birthdates of 921 female gymnasts, we discovered no relative age effects for the collective sample. Dividing the sample into two groups, we noted a relative age effect for under-15 gymnasts, but a reverse effect for over-15 gymnasts. Inspecting competitive standards, we noted over-representations of over-15 athletes born in the fourth quartile at all standards except national. In the discussion, we highlight the complexity of relative age effects by incorporating deliberate practice and competition standard as variables for consideration

Keywords: Birth date, Female, Sport, Talent development