Born to run? Then keep it country, says study on elite athletes

IRISH children aspiring to become top performers in sport are more likely to be born early in the year and come from rural areas or smaller towns.

These are the startling trends being discussed at a top level, invitation-only seminar at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

The seminar is being attended by NCTC director Pat Duffy, and Declan O’Leary, who is the head of coaching services at the centre.

In a groundbreaking study, Jean Cote of Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, reported that in studies conducted in the US, Canada and Australia, children growing up in cities of more than one million inhabitants had a significantly lower chance of making it to the top than children growing up in cities of less than 500,000, and in particular in towns between 5,000 and 50,000 in size.

This phenomenon has been labelled the birthplace effect.

In a second study, Bruce Abernethy of the University of Hong Kong reported a strong over-representation of athletes born in the first half of the year among top Australian athletes.

Calling this the birthday effect, Abernethy said one of the reasons for this trend seemed to relate to the fact that coaches tended to pick the slightly older and more mature children from an early age.

Mr Duffy said: “These findings have fundamental implications for the way parents, coaches and administrators go about providing sports experiences for children in Ireland.

“We need to conduct immediate research to establish the extent to which the birthday and the birthplace effects operate in Ireland.

“For Ireland, the birthplace effect has potentially huge implications, given the concentration of the population in the Dublin region.”

The NCTC representatives are on a 10-day technical visit to Australia that includes the seminar at the institute, as well as the International Sports Psychology Conference in Sydney.

Mr Cote will be a keynote speaker at the eighth National Forum at the NCTC, University of Limerick, between September 2 and 4.

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