Kinesiology professor gives new meaning to bringing research to life

PhD candidate Mark Rice has a unique way of bringing his research to life.

Instead of keeping his research theoretical in the classroom, Rice and his wife, Chloe, wanted to use his knowledge in a more tangible way — so they had a baby.

The UFV Kinesiology faculty member’s research primarily focuses on youth athletic development, and the “relative age effect”. This phenomenon refers to an unconscious bias in choosing athletes born early in the calendar year for a youth sports team.

Because children develop so quickly in their younger years, a gap of being born even six months apart — such as January to June — can make a huge difference. For the older child, they’ve had six more months to grow, to learn, and to develop their skills.

Rice’s research has shown that in certain sports young athletes that are born in the first three months of the year are nine times more likely to be selected for an elite sports team than those born in the last three months of the year. Even though the coaches are not directly looking at the age or birthdates of the kids, they are looking at “maturity factors” such as height and weight. Those that are born early in the age cut-off period (typically the calendar year) simply have an advantage in these factors.

This is especially true with sports such as volleyball and basketball, where the height of players is taken into strong consideration.

Ultimately, this becomes a snowball effect, Rice notes.

“Those athletes that are chosen at these early ages for better teams, receive more support (such as funding) and better training (from high performance coaches) early in their sports careers and carry this growth forward into the future.”

So when Mark and Chloe decided that it was time to expand their family further — to give their son a little brother or sister — they tried to time their pregnancy to result in an early-year baby.

Their efforts paid off as their daughter, Violet Rice, was born on January 19, 2020.

Rice says that their decision to aim for an early-year baby was based on wanting to give their child the most advantages possible, as any parent does. He notes that they would, of course, have been thrilled no matter what day or month their daughter had made her arrival.

Rice clarifies that the relative age effect isn’t meant to discourage those born in other times of the year from participating or thinking that they will not be selected.

There‘s also the “relative age effect reversal”, which shows that if relatively younger athletes (those born later in the year) are selected for these elite teams, they are done so based on skill rather than size. So, when these athletes reach a stage where they grow and develop, they are sometimes considered to be further ahead than those born earlier in the year.

“The problem is that coaches and selection committees often choose size over skill at a young age.”

In any case, both of the Rice kids are sure to grow up playing lots of sports with their parents, which will undoubtedly give them further advantage in the competitive world.

When asked which sports he was most excited to play with his kids as they grew up, Rice says, “I am excited to play all of them. I grew up and played on a number of provincial teams and was top ranked in Canada in another two. As long as we have the time, they can play everything. Hopefully something that doesn’t require the 4 or 5 am wake ups, but I have a feeling that there is going to be no way around this.”

Congratulations to the entire Rice family on welcoming Baby Violet into the world.

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