Monday, May 08, 2006

Anomaly in soccer

In an article written by STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT ( auther of a very refreshing and inspiring economics book called the Freakonomics ) in the New York Times, a question was asked: Why were a big majority of football stars borned in the first 3 months of the year?


If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months. If you then examined the European national youth teams that feed the World Cup and professional ranks, you would find this quirk to be even more pronounced. On recent English teams, for instance, half of the elite teenage soccer players were born in January, February or March, with the other half spread out over the remaining 9 months. In Germany, 52 elite youth players were born in the first three months of the year, with just 4 players born in the last three.

What might account for this anomaly? Here are a few guesses: a) certain astrological signs confer superior soccer skills; b) winter-born babies tend to have higher oxygen capacity, which increases soccer stamina; c) soccer-mad parents are more likely to conceive children in springtime, at the annual peak of soccer mania; d) none of the above.

Anders Ericsson, a 58-year-old psychology professor at Florida State University had made some studies and concluded that what we normaly glorify as talent are simply overrated.

When it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

I would tend to agree with what he said from my personal experience: When I was in Malaysia studying my maths, I have to admit that I got horrible results. I often told myself that maths was not my forte and that I would probably be better off giving up on it. For 6 long years, I hardly did any homework and unsurprisingly, I sucked at maths ;). In the past few months in France, I got the opportunity to repeat the maths that I have done in Malaysia, determined not to suck again for a second time, I took the time to at least do the homework our professor gave to us. And at the end of the day, I think I got some good results. Was it due to my talent in maths? No way, hard work played a much more important role.

For the conclusion of the question above:

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

This may be bad news if you are a rabid soccer mom or dad whose child was born in the wrong month. But keep practicing: a child conceived on this Sunday in early May would probably be born by next February, giving you a considerably better chance of watching the 2030 World Cup from the family section

PS: Sorry la Adrian, since you're not born in the first 3 months, its abit hard for you to play alongside with Ronaldinho.


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