Relative Age Effect (RAE) in male school-aged rugby union players from Gauteng, South Africa
Children participating in sports are grouped according to their age to supposedly ensure equal opportunities. However, a growing body of research shows that children are actually grouped biasedly, according to birthdate, not taking into account the physical and psychological factors. The purpose of the study was to determine the prevalence of Relative Age Effect (RAE) in school-aged male rugby union players in Gauteng, South Africa, so as to determine if there is an over-representation of relatively older players and an under-representation of relatively younger players. Two hundred and eighty one, 13 to 16-year old players from high-schools ranked within the top 100 rugby playing schools in SA were included in this study. A RAE questionnaire was distributed to gather birth date distribution data from the participants. Participants’ birth month data was compared to the general Gauteng population in order to determine if a difference existed between the expected number of participants born in a birth quartile and the observed effect. Findings indicated that RAE was present in the sampled group since significant (p ≤ 0.05) effects were observed for the U/14, U/15 and U/16 age groups, confirming the supposition that selection criteria for U/14, U/15 and U/16 school-aged rugby union players may be based on maturational characteristics. Unless RAE is identified and accounted for in rugby union, rugby union federations face the possibility of losing talented rugby players that might have gone on to represent their country at a junior and/or senior professional level.
Keywords: Adolescents, maturation, relatively older athletes, selection criteria, sport