Does Relative Age Influence the Mechanisms That Foster Positive Youth Development Among Female Ice Hockey Players?

A Qualitative Examination


  • Laura Chittle University of Windsor
  • Sean Horton University of Windsor
  • Jess C. Dixon University of Windsor


positive youth development, relative age effect, female ice hockey, negative developmental experiences, qualitative research


The relative age effect (RAE) describes the physical and cognitive (dis)advantages experienced by athletes based upon when their birthdate falls relative to a pre-established cut-off date. Despite RAEs being present in a number of sports, few studies have explored how relative age influences the positive youth development (PYD) of athletes. This study examined the mechanisms that facilitate and hinder athletes’ acquisition of PYD outcomes and whether these are influenced by relative age. A secondary objective included determining how athletes employed these skills in other contexts. Twenty relatively older (n = 10) and younger (n = 10) competitive female ice hockey players were interviewed (Mage = 17. 2 years). Thematic analyses revealed that all athletes, regardless of their relative age, developed a range of PYD outcomes in the personal, physical, and social domains, and have applied these skills in a variety of contexts outside of sport. Across relative younger and older athletes, three interrelated themes emerged and served as the overarching mechanisms that facilitated or hindered athletes’ development of PYD outcomes: the social features of the sport environment, the structure of female travel/rep ice hockey, and negative ice hockey experiences. Our findings have implications for creating sport environments that foster PYD


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