Small cities more likely to produce elite athletes, study finds
Wednesday October 26, 2005, The small city environment is conducive to producing elite athletes, a study on the birthplace and birthdates of elite athletes has found. The study, on which Queen’s University’s Sports Psychologist Jean Côté is the lead author, also determined that athletes who are older relative to their peers in junior hockey or baseball teams have a greater probability of becoming elite athletes.
Co-authors of the study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sport Sciences, include Queen’s School of Physical Education’s Dany J. MacDonald, Joseph Baker of York University’s School of Kinesiology and Bruce Abernethy of the University of Hong Kong’s Institute of Human Performance.
When “where” is more important than “when”: Birthplace and birthdate effects on the achievement of sporting expertise looks at the birthplace and birth month of all American players in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and Professional Golfer’s Association, and all Canadian players in the National Hockey League. Results showed that the ranks of elite athletes were over-represented in cities of less than 500,000 and under-represented in cities of 500,000 and over.
The study points to informal neighbourhood play in small cities to explain this birthplace effect and notes that athletes “in smaller cities are more likely to engage in games without the structure of the urban setting. There may also be greater diversity in player size and ability in small cities since all the children from the neighbourhood gather to play together independent of age and ability.” This environment, may allow young athletes to better develop expertise in their respective sports.
Côté and his colleagues reason that the relative age effect shown by the study can be attributed to coaches identifying older children in a peer group “as being more mature or physically larger and, accordingly, giving them more practice or opportunities for learning, thereby facilitating their development.”
While the birthplace effect was consistent across all sports studied, the relative age effect, apparent amongst elite hockey and baseball players, was not observed amongst professional golfers or basketball players.
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