We have all seen this scenario. A 14 year old game of rugby or football and the game plan is give Jonny the ball. He stands head and shoulders above the other players, is twice as broad and has thick beard growing on his face. He gets the ball and then carries four skinny kids across the line or stands in the box and heads in his hattrick goal without even jumping.
It happens all of the time in youth sport but why? This is largely due to our insistence with doing what we’ve always done. We have year groups at schools and always have. So, we must have chronological year groups in sport. This is not wholly wrong and research shows that the under dog scenario can be positive (1). It’s been shown that being the little guy in your year group can help to prolong careers and help future performance.
Some benefits of chronological training: physical challenges against bigger players, more physically demanding games for smaller players, mental toughness challenges and confidence builders for bigger players.
However, we believe – and research supports - that training and playing with peers of the same maturation level can be also be beneficial (2,3). The Guardian article below details how the Premier League are doing this and introducing periods of time where players play with those of a similar maturation status.
Some benefits of bio-band training: players more physically similar so challenge is more appropriate, increased demand on technical abilities, mental toughness challenges and training prescription appropriate for all players physical status/ability
We adopt this approach in our training of youth athletes in our Academy. As the majority of sports clubs and teams in the UK utilise chronological age groups athletes are getting the positive benefits laid out above. We aim to deliver the other side of this training paradox. We bio band all of the our new academy athletes when they first join us, and throughout their time with us. After this has been done can we can create an environment where everyone has the ability to develop to the best of their ability. By the time they graduate onto international sport, institute of sport and university sport we know they will be well developed all round athlete ready for the demands of high performance sport.
The concept is not new but the research is still growing. If we do what we’ve always done we will get what we have always got – Jonny breaking the under 14 scoring records never to be heard of again come the age of 18.
(1) Gibbs, B. G., Jarvis, J. A., & Dufur, M. J. (2012). The rise of the underdog? The relative age effect reversal among Canadian-born NHL hockey players: A reply to Nolan and Howell. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 47(5), 644-649.
(2) Cumming, S. P., Lloyd, R. S., Oliver, J. L., Eisenmann, J. C., & Malina, R. M. (2017). Bio-banding in sport: applications to competition, talent identification, and strength and conditioning of youth athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 39(2), 34-47.
(3) Lloyd, R. S., Oliver, J. L., Faigenbaum, A. D., Myer, G. D., & Croix, M. B. D. S. (2014). Chronological age vs. biological maturation: implications for exercise programming in youth. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(5), 1454-1464.