In a recent article published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, Muller and colleagues (2018) presented an article on the relative age effect in international elite under-9 soccer players. Their aim was to investigate the association between biological maturity and the relative age effect in young footballers. Our aim in writing this letter is to highlight theoretical and ethical perspectives, which influenced our beliefs on the contribution to knowledge of this paper.
Long-term athlete development involves highly complex processes in which there are an almost incalculable number of interactions that can influence the rate and magnitude of development of young athletes. Whilst there are anecdotal examples of great athletes being 'talent spotted' early in their development, we know that systems used to predict the future athletic success of pre-pubescent children are of questionable validity (Ford et al., 2011). A well-documented phenomenon in youth sport (Cobley et al., 2009), the relative-age effect (RAE) represents a bias in the form of an over- representation of athletes born early in the selection year (Musch and Grondin, 2001). Measurements like these and others such as predicted age at predicted peak height velocity suggests that simple physical measurements can bring efficiencies to talent identification systems in which pre-pubescent children are ultimately model inputs. However, Kiely (2018) argues that the danger of using such measurements is that training theory is biased towards "readily measurable physical dimensions of training" whilst neglecting psycho-emotional consideration that are more difficult to measure. We believe that Muller et al. (2018) have fallen into such a trap.
There are many social norms and organisational pressures present within the facets of professional football, which do not sit comfortably with us, which we believe the authors of this paper help perpetuate. The use of words such as 'elite' has added to the development of an artificial mythology in and around the culture of child youth sports programs. Against the background of significant concerns about the quality and appropriateness of the contemporary youth sport experience the International Olympic Committee (Bergeron et al., 2015) presented a critical evaluation of the state of science and practice of youth athlete development. Their consensus statement called for a more evidence-informed approach to youth athlete development through the adoption of viable, evidence-informed and inclusive frameworks of athlete development that are flexible. The statement suggested that the 'culture' of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centered. There is a need to address interactions between athletes, coaching styles and practices, the effects on youth athletes from parental expectations and the view of youth athletes as commodities, which is often intrusive with a fine line between objectivity and sensationalism. Semantics are important in this regard, in which Muller and colleagues (2018) talk about pre-pubescent children using the quasi-mythopoetic terms 'elite' and 'international'. Whilst consensus...