How do we accommodate for growth and development during the adolescent years in cross country ski racing in Canada? Is age on Dec 31 still the primary criteria for age grouping adolescent skiers? Are there other factors considered to equalize the almost 12 months of growth and development that separates a child born on Jan 1 and another born on Dec 31? Lets face it, during the years of rapid physical growth maturation, in Canada we refer to this as 'Peak Height Velocity', our competition structure doesn't explicitly accommodate for relative age effect.
There is lots of research published that would point us to the need to treat this age range with great care and attention. http://canadiansportforlife.ca/resources/monitoring-peak-height-velocity-phv http://www.perception.psy.ulaval.ca/sites/perception.psy.ulaval.ca/files/musch_grondin_2001.pdf
The first few minutes of the following video does a nice job of pointing out the relative age effect and its effect on the number of NHL Hockey players born in each of the four quarters of the calendar year (Jan-Mar; Apr-Jun; July-Sept; Oct-Dec).
Is this at all relevant to developmental experiences in cross country skiing? I believe it is relevant. I also believe it is not adequately addressed in our current sport system. Let me explain. In Alberta, our current selection criteria for Alberta Development Team for 14 year olds doesn't include any explicit criteria related to development age or accommodate for relative age effect. Why does this matter? It matters because research would show that relative age effect within a calendar year of birth is a valid phenomenon. Kids born earlier in the calendar year are often bigger and stronger than kids born later in the calendar year. But still, why does it matter? It matters because we select kids to a team in Alberta that doesn't presently accommodate for relevant age effect other than through subjective criteria. I believe that this puts kids born later in the calendar year at a disadvantage for selection to these teams.
We are at a point in our yearly planning cycle with our provincial sport organization where we take a look at what we are doing and what changes we need to make to advance competitive cross country skiing in our province. I think its time we more explicitly address the unique developmental characteristics of adolescents in our sport. Who gets selected to these teams matters. Should we be supporting relevant age effect in our sport when everything current literature and sport research tells us is that it makes a difference what month of the year you are born in. In cross country skiing in Alberta we still don't have tiered competition for children as they do in ice hockey in Canada. So the relative age effect is I think less pronounced. But it is still present. Bigger adolescents usually win ski races. On average, kids born in the beginning of the calendar year are bigger than kids born in the last quarter of the calendar year where age on Dec 31 is used to create competition groupings. Not always, but usually. Are the development training and coaching experiences made available through Alberta Development Team significant and meaningful in an adolescent's athlete development - I would hope so. It is why I put forward the idea the idea that accommodating for relative age effect for team selection for adolescents in Alberta makes sense.
I have been enjoying the opportunity to convene conversations with coaches and colleagues from across Alberta about what changes, if any, need to happen to advance competitive cross country skiing in Alberta most effectively. If you have some ideas that you'd like to share here or to continue the conversation in another way, please do.
Its Canada Day today and what am I doing, thinking about skiing again. :)