Theory of Relative Age Effect, disproved.

An in-depth study of the top 50 athletes in Ice Hockey, Basketball, Football, Soccer and Golf, and how this theory applies to their athletic excellence.

Has it ever crossed your mind about how the best athletes in the world got to where they did? You might have thought it had something to do with where they grew up? What teams they played for? Who their coaches were? Perhaps you thought it was genetics? All sports fans, at one point or another, will ask themselves that very question, how are they that talented and why are they so much better than their competition?

So while sports fans simply let the question pass and just accepted the athletic brilliance being displayed on their big screen tv’s, Malcolm Gladwell studied why these athletes were that good, how they became so exceptionally talented, and why these athletes are so much better than their competitors.
“Success is the result of what sociologists like to call accumulative advantage. In absolutely every system in which hockey is played, a hugely disproportionate number of hockey players are born in the first half of the year, specifically the first three months,” said Gladwell.

This theory is called the Relative Age Effect, which has been studied in sports for many years by psychologists, analysts and sociologists who have been interested in encoding the reasons behind superior athletic ability. It studies attainment inequalities as a result of interactions between biological age and age-grouping procedures.

Gladwell is a journalist, author and speaker who published a book called “Outliers” in 2008 which examined how a person’s environment, in conjunction with personal drive and motivation, affects his or her possibility and opportunity for success. With his research in areas of sociology, psychology and social psychology, he used his research of Canadian Junior hockey players to further prove the Relative Age Effect theory. His results,Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 9.03.19 AM show that almost 40% of Canadian Junior Players were born in the first quarter (January/ February/ March) and above 30% were born in the second quarter (April/ May/ June) equaling a total of over 70%. This is a staggering statistic; more than 70% of Canadian Junior hockey players were born in the first half of the year.


With this universal theory, I thought I could use the methods and research to conduct my own study about the top 50 athletes in Ice Hockey, Basketball, Football, Soccer and Golf, and how this theory applies to their athletic excellence. I gathered the top 10 highest paid male athletes in 2015 in each of those sports, assuming that their salaries worked in concordance with their performance and dominance in the sport. I then further researched each player in each sport, and marked down his birthday.
The Relative Age Effect theory states that people born in the first three months are more likely to be superior to other, have a significantly large advantage over others, and amount to greater successes in relation to those born in later months.
The results were as following:

  • Date of birth for all 50 athletes: 7/50 were born in January, 3/50 were born in February, and 4/50 were born in March.
  • Percentage of total top 50 athletes born in each month:
    28% were born in the first quarter: January-March,
    22% were born in the second quarter: April-June
  • 22% were born in the third quarter: July-September
  • 28% were born in the fourth quarter: October-December.
  • Of the top 10 Hockey players: 2 were born in the first three months.
  • Of the top 10 Basketball players: 2 were born in the first three months.
  •  Of the top 10 Football players: 5 were born in the first three months.
  • Of the top 10 Soccer players: 4 were born in the first three months.
  • Of the top 10 Golfers: 1 was born in the first three months.

With this data that is also visually shown in the info-graphic, we can see that although there is 50% of the top 50 athletes born in the first half of the year, only 28% were actually born in the first three months. Is this a significant amount? Not really, especially compared to Gladwell’s results that stated over 70% of Canadian Junior Hockey players were born in the first half of the year, and of that 70%, 40% were born in the first quarter (January/ February/ March).
So, was Gladwell’s theory skewed because of the specific population of hockey players he researched in 2008 study of Canadian Junior hockey players? Maybe so. Was this research about the top 50 athletes in Ice Hockey, Basketball, Football, Soccer and Golf in 2015 perhaps a randomly skewed sample in relation to other years, other athletes and other sports? Maybe so. But perhaps the bigger question we must ask ourselves is this Relative Age Effect theory a main factor, or even a factor at all in relation to an athlete’s athletic preeminence? This data shows otherwise. I leave it to experts to gather a wider populace of athletes in different sports, and thus have a greater and wider-ranging analysis of Gladwell’s theory. However with the sample shown here, and the sample Gladwell chose to explore in 2008, the results speak for themselves. There is no significant correlation between the top 50 Ice Hockey, Basketball, Football, Soccer and Golfers from 2015, and the months they were born in.




Two Friday’s ago at the Outdoor Women’s Classic, history was made. It was made for two reasons- one, being the first ever outdoor classic that celebrated this year’s creation of the National Women’s Ice Hockey League- two, being the moment the hockey community stood still in horror and watched as Denna Laing’s life changed forever.

From the neck down, Denna is paralyzed. Suffering a major spinal injury after crashing into the boards, it’s a day that myself and every other college athlete will never forget. Within hours of the game, almost every top level female hockey player in the USA and Canada had been informed through the grapevine that Denna was carried off in a stretcher without an answer to the unspoken question of, “is she ever going to play or walk again.” 

The answer is no.

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Denna Laing sustained severe spinal cord injury during NWHL game at Gillette Stadium THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Saturday, January 9, 2016, 2:59 PM.

This story has consumed my life for the last two week- I read about updates several times a day, I constantly check the GoFundMe account to see how much money has been raised, I text teammates, past coaches and friends throughout the day to see if there is any new news, and I am very engaged on social media. Everywhere I look and every conversation I have has some correlation to Denna, which is why the biggest and most spreadable story in my life right now is #14strong. 

After several surgeries and days in the hospital, her family released the official medical statement confirming that her c3, c4 and c5 vertebra were shattered, and that Denna was paralyzed from the neck down. Literally minutes after this was shared with the hockey community, it spread like wildfire.

I received a message from my best friend Hilary, who plays at Princeton (where Denna played) that said…

“Hayls. I am attaching a picture of our team making Denna’s #14 on the ice overtop our logo. Can you guys (Northeastern) take the same picture, then tweet it and pass it on to another school.”

And so the next morning at 6am our team took a group photo on the at centre ice, all of us positioned so that from above, it looked like her number. I tweeted the picture, passed it on, and within 12 hours my tweet was published and used on Fox Sports, ESPN, Sports Centre and the Boston Globe. That same photo was taken by every NCAA Division 1 team across the country, and all of the NWHL teams. The fund was receiving incredibly generous donations, celebrity shootouts, and every sports news station was covering the story.

Every social media platform was filled with Denna’s story- Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Online Newspapers, Instagram, the front cover of every major sports magazine and sports paper, all of the major radio broadcast stations and sports shows.

After reflecting on this tragedy, I came to two very important conclusions. The first is that social media today is such an incredibly powerful tool. Like I saw with this story, it travelled across the country and internationally within just hours of the game. I firsthand saw how close the hockey community was, and how far the reach was to people across the world who were somehow connected through the social network. I understood how this reach and network has helped Denna and the fund, and that if it weren’t for the spreading of her story, she may have not received enough funding to help the cost of her incredibly expensive medical bill. But, like most powerful things, they do in fact come with a negative component, which I also have recognized. Was the support for Denna, both emotionally and financially “just because everyone else was doing it,” or because people actually cared. I believe that the social media component and viral spread took away from the harsh reality of the situation- Denna’s life is changed forever. She will never walk or brush her teeth or do the things most of us are lucky to do every single day. And while I am not saying that the support isn’t incredible, I am just questioning the intent behind this viral explosion. It seems that today people share and post and talk about so much information, yet do they really care about any of it? Do people share things for the sake of it, or do they share things they are passionate about? To relate my internal argument, it seems odd to me that the NHL franchise who hosted this event, is tweeting pictures of #14strong yet have not made a donation to the fund? That ESPN and SportsCentre and all of the big corporations that are covering the story (that they are seeming so passionate about) are doing just that. Covering the story. 

I may be biased because this story hits so close to home, but I would hope that everyone who is spreading the word about Denna and sharing her story, are also contributing in other ways that are going to help her and her family in the long run. Because when this all blows over, and the next big story explodes, I would hate to think that all she’s left with is a collection of tweets and Facebook posts, and 10 million dollars of debt (the estimated cost of her lifelong medical bills).

I believe that if used properly, social media can benefit the world in so many ways. I think its incredible how far things can reach through the network of technology- I just hope that society really is passionate and careful about what they are sharing- that the intent behind viral sharing and the spreading of information is done with the mindset to better the greater good, and inform people about things that matter.

I share Denna’s story because I’m passionate about it, because its important, because we can learn to cherish what we have from this tragedy and because I believe that if we can all give a small amount of money to her fund, she can focus on things that make her happy and moving forward rather than the expense of her tragic injuries.









partner in crime 

For my last story abroad, my friend Freda and I decided that we were going to co-write an article together. Today marked our final day of reporting, where we spent the morning outside at an international inline-rollerskating marathon. We were given bright yellow staff bibs (making us look like an airport runway crew) which was slightly problematic… Freda and I speak very little Spanish, so when participants grilled us with questions about the event and where the bathrooms were located we were of no help. Needless to say, it was a great morning spent with even better company.

 The experience working with another journalist was something new to me, however Freda and I got to share ideas and good vibes all week at cool modern cafés around the city.

We got to explore Madrid while interviewing sources and collecting all of the pieces needed to construct our final product.

Extreme measures- Part 2. 
This morning, bright and early, Freda and I woke up to an email from Carlene stating that we had only a few hours to get three more interviews to complete our article. With no time to freak out or make a solid game plan, we were forced to simply wing it. Freda and I work quite nicely together. She is the brains of the operation, a brilliant and skilled writer, while I make up for her shyness with the ability to fearlessly stroll up to strangers and ask questions. We have developed a system that works with both of our strengths, and today it was more than effective. 

With a camera, a notepad, and my wonderful partner by my side, we headed out with Carlene’s voice in the back of our head saying, “I know you girls can do it. Just go and make it happen” 

After stopping two strangers in a park, we needed just one more interview. Seeing as our story is more or less about athletic tourism, we decided to stop a 12-person bike tour. One of the participants said they would be ending the tour at Plaza de Sol at 2pm. After our trip on the Metro, we got off at Plaza de Sol with no wifi, no directions, and no address. We had no option but to barge into a phone store and get all of those things. Freda headed to the phone section, while I distracted the sales lady, making up some wild story for the perfect amount of time for her to get what we needed- Carlene would expect nothing less than taking extreme measure like this. We found the guy, and got our third and final interview, and as she expected, we “made it happen.”

After posting up in a coffee shop for two and a half hours, Freda and I finished writing our story. Another wild adventure, another story, and another day, which marked our last, spent with my fellow writer & parter in crime.

A rock-solid day, literally.

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Photos taken by Maria Amasanti

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Photos taken by Maria Amasanti

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Photos taken by Maria Amasanti

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Guillermo and Isabel

As I pondered ideas for my second story, I kept asking myself “if you could do one thing while in Madrid, what would you do.” So I googled a few things, talked to a few locals about buzzing topics in Madrid, but fell short of finding any concrete story ideas. On the train from Barcelona to Madrid, it finally came to me. I’d been starring out the window for three hours, looking at wild animals, fields, endless landscape and the mountain range that appeared to be floating in the distance. My ah-hah moment finally arrived when I asked myself the question a final time, “if you could do one thing while in Madrid, what would you do.”
Extreme rock climbing, definitely extreme rock climbing. I mean why not? Madrid was the perfect place for it- the incredible year-round conditions, an abundance of nature, and of course, mountains. The idea intrigued me. I was passionate about the sport, motivated by the adventure that it would take me on, and ready to learn about the climbing scene in Madrid. Not to mention the fact that I love adventure, extreme sports and things that make my heart race. This was the perfect story idea.
The interview with Guillermo and Isabel marks my favourite interview of all time. After an hour-long bus to a famous mountain-range in Madrid, I got off and was greeted with kisses by two extreme climbers. I knew it was going to be an unbelievable day based on the energetic vibrations I got in the first two minutes. Unbelievable was an understatement. I hoped in their van, and we drove up a winding road through the mountains. We parked under a tree, a river flowing nearby, and began our trek to find a boulder with a view of what seemed to be the entire world. I had to pinch myself to realize that I wasn’t in fact dreaming. 
We hiked about 20-minutes upward until we were standing on that same mountain range that was floating in the distance that I saw from the window. I watched as Guillermo free-climbed to the top of the boulder, making it look effortless. Isabel followed, reaching the top in only a few short minutes. We explored several boulders, each location providing a spectacular view of Madrid. We shared stories for the entire afternoon, enjoying the view, the silence and lunch in a small village later on.
I realized that the best way to write about something unfamiliar is to experience it firsthand- literally put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that is just what I did. It was an afternoon and interview experience that I’ll never forget. With two of the kindest people I’ve ever met and a million-dollar view of Madrid, I realized that this is exactly why I came to Spain in the first place. I came to be challenged, motivated and inspired, and that is exactly what the day brought me.
On the bus home, I thought back to asking myself the question, “If you could do one thing in Madrid, what would you do?” Smiling ear to ear, I knew that I answered correctly. 

The official makeshift training program

Spain has been almost problem free-the food has been great, the people are friendly and our apartment is very spacious. I say almost problem free because there is one thing that i’ve had to substantially modify… My summer hockey conditioning and fitness program. I call these workouts, “makeshift training,” as the equipment is not exactly up to standards, and I’ve had to improvise a great deal.

I think illustrating my current training situation with pictures will help explain just how modified these workouts have been.

Lateral bound jumps with hockey stick = lateral bound jumps with broom stick.  

Dumbbell lateral raises = paint can lateral raises.  

Back squat with Olympic bar = front squat with paint cans and broom bar.  


Dumbbell front squats = paint can front squat.  

Paint can dumbbells-$12.99

broom hockey stick- $8.99

Paint can back/ front squat rack- $12.99 + $8.99 

makeshift summer hockey training on a study abroad- PRICELESS.

Oh’ what travel has taught me, part three.

 Part three of the mini-series, Oh’ what travel has taught me!

Be humble. Be passionate. Be wise. Be inspired.

Always take the route less explored.

Create your own journey for those who follow a group usually get lost in it.

Be without limitations for you shall be rewarded with a boundless array of possibilities.

Proceed aimlessly with little purpose or reason.

Be not distracted by technology or things out of sight and reach.

Have a radiantly contagious attitude.

Appreciate cultures, despite the many differences from your own.

Treat your taste buds to fresh coffee, and locally made beverages.

Make many friends for they shall be good connections down the road.

More often than not, you will find more pleasure in discovering a local dive than a tourist attraction, so wander frequently.

Let your experiences be great, but your gratitude for them, be greater.

For adventure is everywhere, and those who explore will become intimate with this brilliant world.

Oh’ what travel has taught me, part two.

I think I am going to continue this mini series of “oh what travel has taught me.” It’s a nice way to combine my thoughts about travel, being abroad, and the things I’ve learned so far. Enjoy part two.

Be adventurous. Be fearless. Be venturesome. Be genuine.

Trust your gut, always.

Travel without conventional plans, but allow for impulsive, unplanned and spur-of-the-moment journeys.

Absorb your surroundings.

Allow yourself to abandon the concept of time when something captures your interest.

Be friendly with locals.

Venture through unfamiliar places.

Be a wondrous soul and ask an abundance of questions.

Eat well. Keep a journal. Take pictures.

Let not past or future thoughts consume your mind, be present in each moment.

Enjoy the company of others, but take time to saunter alone.

Lead with your heart and your feet will follow.

Dare to step beyond all boundaries that scare you.

For adventure is everywhere, and those who explore will become intimate with this brilliant world.

Until my next adventure,