Growing Super Stars

Part 1 of Growing Super Stars

Growing Super Stars

It’s July 2009, imagine that you are a hockey scout looking at two 9 year olds performing drills. You need to select one for the team and dismiss the other. Hockey is a brutally physical sport. Even the smallest guy on the team must be able to handle hits from multiple opponents simultaneously. So which of these two do you pick?

Junior 1:
Speed: 8/10
Size: 4’1”, 66 pounds
Skills: 8/10

Junior 2:
Speed: 8/10
Size 4’6”, 78 pounds
Skills: 8/10

Most scouts will pick the bigger player, as he will have more immediate impact on the team’s performance. The smaller player may grow to be a great player, but the Squirt league has two years with these kids (age 9,10). To keep the reputation of your team, you must keep winning. To keep winning, sometimes you need to out-muscle your opponent . . . even at age 9. This begins the selection mechanism that determines ultimately who will have success long term in hockey.

Speaking of out-muscle….

Does size matter?

Junior 1:
Speed: 8/10
Size: 4’1”, 66 pounds
Age 8
Skills: 8/10
Date of Birth: November 17, 2000

Junior 2:
Speed: 8/10
Size 4’6”, 78 pounds
Age 9
Skills: 8/10
Date of Birth: January 12, 2000

Junior 2 had an additional 8 months of growth over Junior 1. At age 9, that difference is often the deciding factor in who makes the team and who makes the lower-tier team. The deciding date for age-based hockey teams is December 31st those born in 2000 play as 9-10 year old Squirts in 2009. If you are born January 1, you have a natural physical maturity advantage. Ideally you have a January 1st birthday to maximize on your playing size. The hockey world has known this for years, and Malcolm Gladwell brought it to light more recently in Outliers.

Is Hockey the only sport to weed out substantial talent simply because of birth date?

No.

Each major team sport has its major cutoff date though some are by grade-level instead of pure age (which leads to other challenges)*. The selection happens almost without thought.

While you may have the capacity to be a high performing soccer star, in the world of team sports you are a bit stifled by the cut-off dates, keep that in mind. Kids face significant rejection by not making the best team and will play against weaker opponents.

This creates the vicious cycle, as those kids will continue to miss the major cutoffs as they grow their skills with less talented, smaller players, less talented coaches and smaller less talented opponents. The effect is multiplicative in either direction. If you land on the right side of the birthday coin, the effect is great, a steady upward stream of challenges that push you to the next level. If you are on the wrong side of the birthday coin, your chances of making the big league dwarf exponentially.**

For individual sports: running, swimming, cycling, etc., there is less pressure for birthday-related cut-offs.

The main difference is these sports are either grade-level based like running or the teams have a wide range of years. Most competitive swimming leagues have ages broken down in groupings of under 8, 8-12, 11-14, high school, and college. There is overlap to account for smaller 12 year olds and larger 11 year olds.

Now what?
For a family observing their child’s interest, steering the kid to team sports that compliment the child’s date of birth may seem like too much engineering. After all, kids like what they like and have a natural talent for certain things….

Or Do they?

Part 2 of Growing Super Stars destroys what you know about “Natural Talent.”

*In other words, if your child is the smallest in his class, you probably don’t want to put him on the football field if you live in Texas. It is not unusual for parents to hold back their boys a full academic year so the boys will have the opportunity to play at the right size. While some scoff at the suggestion, it makes sense for others.

** still have a burning desire to play a sport where you land on the wrong side of the birthday coin? You can do it.  Part 3 of Growing Super Stars shows you what it takes . . .

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