Can anybody explain to me why USA hockey uses the calander year, ie. January-December, to determine age groups? All other youth sports in the U.S. use a calander similar to the school year, ie..Aug/Sept-July/Aug?
The first chapter in "Outliers" is about how some Canadian hockey players born in the first months of the year enjoy advantages that those born later in the year don't have. You also write that birth month correlates closely with success in other sports. Why is this?
It's a beautiful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Canada, the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey programs is Jan. 1. Canada also takes hockey really seriously, so coaches start streaming the best hockey players into elite programs, where they practice more and play more games and get better coaching, as early as 8 or 9. But who tends to be the "best" player at age 8 or 8? The oldest, of course -- the kids born nearest the cut-off date, who can be as much as almost a year older than kids born at the other end of the cut-off date. When you are 8 years old, 10 or 11 extra months of maturity means a lot.
So those kids get special attention. That's why there are more players in the NHL born in January and February and March than any other months. You see the same pattern, to an even more extreme degree, in soccer in Europe and baseball here in the U.S. It's one of those bizarre, little-remarked-upon facts of professional sports. They're biased against kids with the wrong birthday.
The research you cite about birth months goes back as far as 2001. Do you know of any junior sports leagues that are trying to change the way they sift talent in order to level the playing field?
As far as I know, none. I brought up this very fact with one of the most senior officials in the Canadian national junior hockey program, and pointed out that Canada was squandering the talents of hundreds of boys with late birthdays. I asked [an official] why he didn't just start a parallel league, with a cut-off in late summer. He shrugged and said it would be complicated. Complicated! I don't think, as a society, we are always particularly smart about how to make the best use of our talent. And if we're this bad at sports, imagine how bad we are at other things -- like getting the most out of young people's brains?