DOES BIRTHDATE MATTER?

Jason Gregor
August 19 2013 01:05PM

Does the month you are born in give you a better chance to play in the NHL? In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book, Outliers, which focused on different factors that might influence people's success. It looked at the Beatles, Bill Gates, law firms and other successful companies and people. He also wrote on why the majority of NHL hockey players were born in the first three months of the year.

He often mentioned the "10,000 hour" rule as the key to anyone's success. He wrote that most people who reach high levels of success put in at least 10,000 hours of practice before gaining success. That premise makes a lot of sense, but after reading his book, I questioned if the birth month numbers matched today's NHL.

Gladwell pointed out that kids born in January, February and March have an advantage in minor hockey because they are on average more physically mature than kids born later in the year, especially between the ages of 7-16. Those kids were in most cases bigger, stronger and more mature than kids born later in the year, thus they had an advantage.

The numbers matched his theory; however, if you look at today's NHL player, the "early birthday" advantage seems to have diminished.

Here is a chart from 2008 showing the difference between kids born in the first quarter (Jan-March) to those born in the final quarter (Oct-Dec) courtesy of behindthenet.ca

You will notice in 1985 there was almost a 30% difference for kids in junior hockey, while in 2005 it was about a 22% difference. In the NHL the gap was 17% in 1985 and closer to 12% around 2005.

Fast forward to today and let's look at the breakdown of the Oilers: 

Name  Date Of Birth  Age 
Mike Brown    24-Jun-85 28
Jordan Eberle "A"   15-May-90 23
Sam Gagner    10-Aug-89 24
Boyd Gordon    19-Oct-83 29
Taylor Hall "A"   14-Nov-91 21
Ales Hemsky    13-Aug-83 30
Jesse Joensuu    5-Oct-87 25
Ryan Jones    14-Jun-84 29
Anton Lander 24-Apr-91 22
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins    12-Apr-93 20
David Perron    28-May-88 25
Ryan Smyth    21-Feb-76 37
Nail Yakupov    6-Oct-93 19
     
Name  Date Of Birth  Age 
Anton Belov    29-Jul-86 27
Andrew Ference    17-Mar-79 34
Denis Grebeshkov    11-Oct-83 29
Oscar Klefbom 20-Jul-93 20
Philip Larsen    7-Dec-89 23
Jeff Petry    9-Dec-87 25
Corey Potter    5-Jan-84 29
Justin Schultz    6-Jul-90 23
Nick Schultz "A"   25-Aug-82 30
Ladislav Smid    1-Feb-86 27
     
Name  Date Of Birth  Age 
Devan Dubnyk    4-May-86 27
Jason LaBarbera    18-Jan-80 33

Of this 25-man roster, the Oilers have:
Five players born in Q1, and three of them are the oldest players on the team. (20%)
Seven players born in Q2 (Apr-June). (28%)
Six players born in Q3 (July-Sept) (24%)
Seven players born in Q4. (28%)

In the past five years it seems we've seen a swing regarding the birth month of NHL players. 28% of the Oilers were born in Q4, while 20% were born in Q1. That is significantly different from the league average in 2008, when 31% were born in Q1 and 19% were born in Q4.

Are the Oilers an anomaly?

I looked at last seasons top-30 goal scorers to see. 

  Player  Birth month GP  G  A  P
1 Martin St Louis June 48 17 43 60
2 Steven Stamkos February 48 29 28 57
3 Alex Ovechkin October 48 32 24 56
4 Sidney Crosby August 36 15 41 56
5 Patrick Kane November 47 23 32 55
6 Eric Staal October 48 18 35 53
7 Chris Kunitz September 48 22 30 52
8 Phil Kessel October 48 20 32 52
9 Taylor Hall November 45 16 34 50
10 Pavel Datsyuk July 47 15 34 49
11 Ryan Getzlaf May 44 15 34 49
12 Mike Ribeiro February 48 13 36 49
13 Jonathan Toews April 47 23 25 48
14 Claude Giroux January 48 13 35 48
15 Henrik Zetterberg October 46 11 37 48
16 Nicklas Backstrom November 48 8 40 48
17 John Tavares September 48 28 19 47
18 Jakub Voracek August 48 22 24 46
19 Andrew Ladd December 48 18 28 46
20 Henrik Sedin September 48 11 34 45
21 Derek Stepan June 48 18 26 44
22 Nazem Kadri October 48 18 26 44
23 Matt Moulson November 47 15 29 44
24 Alexander Semin March 44 13 31 44
25 PA Parenteau March 48 18 25 43
26 Matt Duchene January 47 17 26 43
27 Rick Nash June 44 21 21 42
28 Anze Kopitar August 47 10 32 42
29 Thomas Vanek January 38 20 21 41
30 Blake Wheeler August 48 19 22 41

Here is the breakdown:

Q1: Seven players (23.3%)
Q2: Five players     (16.7%
Q3: Eight players   (26.7%)
Q4: Ten players      (33.3%)

The gap amongst the top scorers was even bigger, however, 30 isn't that large of sample size, so I looked at the top-120 scoring forwards.

The results:

Q1: 33 players      (27.5%)
Q2: 28 players      (23.3%)
Q3: 30 players      (25.0%)
Q4: 29 players      (24.2%)

The stats reverted back to what Gladwell had pointed out; however, there was only a 3% difference between Q1 and Q4 amongst forwards.

What about the top-60 scoring D-men?

Here is the breakdown:

Q1: 17 players            (28.3%)
Q2: 15 players            (25.0%)
Q3: 16 players            (26.7%)
Q4: 12 players            (20.0%)

I also did a quick breakdown on the top-30 goalies. (based on minute leader for each team)

Q1: 11 players      (36.7%)
Q2: 7 players        (23.3%)
Q3: 7 players        (23.3%)
Q4: 5 players        (16.7%)

It was interesting to note the massive difference in Q1and Q4 when it comes to goalies, so I looked at all 82 goalies who played at least one game in the NHL last year: The remaining 52 goalies looked much different than the top-30 (minutes played) goalies, and the numbers changed significantly.

Q1: 22 players       (26.8%)
Q2: 26 players       (31.7%)
Q3: 25 players       (30.5%)
Q4: 9 players          (11.0%)

My conclusion, which is very scientific, regarding goalies is that they live up to their "they are odd ducks" stereotype. If you want a solid starting goalie, their Jan-March birth date seems to play a bigger role than it does for D-men or forwards.

CONCLUSION....

If you add all the numbers, top-120 scoring forwards, top-60 scoring D-men and the starting 30 goalies we get this:

Q1: 60 players      (28.5%)
Q2: 50 players      (23.8%)
Q3: 53 players      (25.2%)
Q4: 46 players      (21.9%)

The gap between Q1 and Q4 is now less than 7%. If you scroll back to the first chart, this small sample size does match up, albeit at a quicker pace, of narrowing the gap.

Why are we seeing the gap shrink?

Summer and spring hockey likely has played a factor. Kids can get more icetime than before, thus giving them a better chance to fulfill Gladwell's "10,000 hours of practice" theory. But is that the only factor?

Before the season starts, I will calculate every forward, D-man and goalie that played in the NHL this past season to see how the remaining players alter, or not, the % of NHL players based on their birth month.

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND ROAD TRIP

  • The Eskimos find a way to look unorganized every week. Yesterday the coaching staff looked to have forgotten the rules regarding possession after a FG compared to kicking off after a TD. Those types of mistakes and errors can't keep happening.
     
  • The Eskimos offence is improving under Mike Reilly. Reilly threw for 511 yards yesterday, 4th all-time in Eskimos history, and he's playing with more poise every week. The defence, however, is getting worse. Marcus Howard has been invisible most of the season, while D-coordinator Greg Marshall's system seems a bit passive. Their defence needs to show signs of improvement soon.
     
  • Interesting to see the list of the top-25 remaining UFAs. Would any of them be long-term solutions in Edmonton? No, however, if the Oilers need a stop-gap a few of them are intriguing. If you could sign Grabovski for a one-year deal, especially with Nugent-Hopkins unlikely to start the season, I'd look at that. Has Tom Gilbert fallen that far that he can't even crack the top-25 remaining UFA list? Ouch.
     
  • I went to San Fransisco for my holidays and highly recommend it for anyone. If you go, you have to see the city from a unique vantage point. We rented a Go Car, and I instantly felt like Cartman. "RESPECT MY AUTHOROTIE". The Go Car is great, because you can drive all over the city, and it has a GPS voice narrator who tells you the history of streets and monuments that you pass. Plus you get a lot of respect when you drive that bad boy around the city. 

  •  Another must see is Muir Woods. The Redwoods are spectacular and no picture truly does them justice. Many of the trees stand more than 15 stories high. They are a must see. 

  •  Of course you need to go tour Alcatraz. You can watch a 15-minute video that gives you the history of the Island when you arrive. They also give you a set of headphones when you tour the prison to learn all about the prisoners and daily life in the prison. It was eerie walking though the prison, and when you looked in the cells, especially solitary confinement, it gave me chills. They also gave some excellent history and feedback about all the events that happened on the Island: War time, the prison, escape attempts and the 19-month Indian occupation in 1969-1971. 

  •  As a sports guy I had to take in a Giants game. AT&T park is a great venue. The atmosphere and view was spectacular just off the ocean, and when the sun comes out it is scorching hot. The defending World Series champs don't have much power this year. Best stat I learned on the trip. In 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 476 at-bats. In 2013, the Giants needed 4,160 at-bats combined to hit 73 homers. Yikes. 

  • Food can make or break on a holiday and San Fran has awesome food. My best recommendations are:

    The Slanted Door. It is in the Ferry Building and it has a wide array of choices. The fish is tantalizing.
    Cafe Mocca. A great place for lunch. It feels like you are in Paris. It is a deli style restaurant where you go order you food and then sit outside under umbrellas while a musician plays.
    The Bix. A great jazz place with excellent food and tasty wine and beer menu.
    Tomasso's Pizza. Outstanding pizza, with a great beer selection and the prices are a steal. If you are planning a holiday, I'd look at San Francisco. You won't be disappointed.
     
  • Speaking of food...I went to a new restaurant in Edmonton last night. The Plow and Harvest. They have a unique style were they seat you, allow you to look at the menu, and then go order your food. They call it Fresh-Casual. I like it. The best part is the chefs prepare all the food fresh and only use local products. They have a great beer selection, and lots of tasty food choices. I recommend the Grilled Cheese. It has Bourbon Bacon Jam. Seriously, Bacon Jam, maybe the greatest new invention of food I've ever tasted. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

Ddf3e2ba09069c465299f3c416e43eae
One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
Avatar
#1 Baresnake
August 19 2013, 01:21PM
Trash it!
4
trashes
Cheers
13
cheers

Great job photoshopping yourself into that picture of the Giants game!

Avatar
#2 The Soup Fascist
August 19 2013, 02:28PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
6
cheers

Just taking a quick look at the photos, it would seem that there a new Herbie the Love Bug movie coming out. It appears to be starring the same guy who played the Great Gazoo on the Flintstones. Strange.

Nice bucket, Jason!

Avatar
#3 The Soup Fascist
August 19 2013, 04:45PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
5
cheers

@Mike Krushelnyski

"Anyone know how I get in touch with him to set up a joint party?"

Pretty sure he stays away from the chronic, with him being a devout Muslim and a very committed professional athlete and all.

A hookah party, maybe? A "joint" party is highly unlikely. Now if you and Michael Phelps had the same birthday ......

Avatar
#4 Ducey
August 19 2013, 01:40PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
3
cheers

Nice Clown Car Gregor! Do they give everyone a helmet or just the good drivers?

The NHL draft must have some impact on the age thing. Because the deadline is Sept 15, anyone born after that would go into the next draft year. A kid born Sept 16 would have to grow up being one of the youngest (because they go on the calendar year), but when he hit junior he would get an extra year and would be the oldest in his draft.

Avatar
#5 Jonathan L.
August 19 2013, 02:01PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
3
cheers

The age of kids going into hockey also has a lot to do with how they're seeded each year. Those kids who are bigger / more developed will often end up in a higher tier / level of hockey. This in itself usually lends itself to more competitive programs, better coaches, more skills being taught earlier on. Over years the results are compounded.

Anyway, good article!

Avatar
#6 Supernova
August 19 2013, 02:45PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
3
cheers

Great article Jason,

I really like Gladwell's books and quite often post about the 10,000 hours of practice. I usually refer to it in the blogosphere as "at bats".

I have become increasingly frustrated with Oilers development and failing to give the prospects the proper time at each level before they move on, prime examples are Pitlick, Hamilton and Gagner.

We can debate the validity of those names but I wish and hope the Oilers employ more of this thinking with MacT in at GM.

Also everyone please go out and support the "plow and harvest" fantastic place and food.

Avatar
#7 oilers2k10
August 19 2013, 02:46PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
3
cheers

10,000 hrs is insane, no wonder most people's hobbys remain only hobbies for their whole lives.. I've spent about 5 hrs a week on my personal hobby for the past 10 yrs or so and it hasn't brought me a dime yet, I also haven't reached half of 10,000 hrs yet either. It takes serious commitment to reach the pro level, alost as much as a full time job does.

Avatar
#8 Mike Krushelnyski
August 19 2013, 04:12PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
3
cheers

The most important lesson that this article has taught me is that I have the same birthday as Nail Yakupov. Anyone know how I get in touch with him to set up a joint party?

Avatar
#9 Rambelaya
August 19 2013, 04:21PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
2
cheers

10,000hrs isn't insane. Yes, it's a lot, but full-time (40hrs a week), it's about 7yrs. That means that even if you throw away your first 14 years being a kid, you still have the possibility to become an expert in 8 things through your lifetime. Put in THAT context, it's insane.

Although Gregor - one question that may affect your results: I don't imagine you factored in the age cutover for each of the countries that the players were from.

I loved the original studies, but what they depended on was the North America minor hockey age cutoff of Dec 31st. Meaning a kid born Jan 1st will be a full year bigger, yet in the same league, as a kid born Dec 30th of the same year.

However, that's in NA. One possible explanation for the NHL not following that pattern is that it's an international league. Maybe the age cutoff in Russia is June 1? Maybe in Finland it's Oct 1. Maybe in Sweden it's Feb 1.

So taking all these different minor hockey league cutoff dates might be enough to cover up any birthdate-related trends in the NHL.

Thoughts?

Avatar
#10 gongshow
August 19 2013, 05:59PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
2
cheers

Gregor - Have you ever heard of (or interviewed) Dan McLaughlin of "The Dan Plan"? He's a guy who quit his job and decided to test the 10,000 hour rule on himself by learning golf. Really interesting story with a nice sports angle.

Avatar
#11 Rocket
August 19 2013, 02:39PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers

Great article. Super interesting stuff. I'm getting more intrigued by these sociological studies of sports all the time and articles like these are really helpful to me.

San Fran is a great town to visit & live in. If I had to live in the states, it would be near the top of my list.

JG, when you went to Alcatraz , did you just constantly quote lines from "The Rock" like I would have done?

Avatar
#12 gongshow
August 19 2013, 04:55PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers

I used to think that Gladwell was great, however I am increasingly convinced that he is a hack who either steals other people's ideas or else comes up with a thesis and grabs only the appropriate data to support his conclusion.

San Francisco on the other hand, I have all the time in the world for. Lived down the 101 in San Jose for 4 years of school during the dot com boom and loved every trip into the city. It remains my favorite city to visit even after several trips back. Ridiculous sports town, too. Gregor's show today's for me itchy to get on Expedia again.

Avatar
#15 The Soup Fascist
August 19 2013, 06:27PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers
Jason Gregor wrote:

No, but I will look into it. Of course the 10,000 isn't a guarantee, because many players in sports put in that time, yet they never make it...

I had never heard of this either but a quick Google search proved pretty interesting.

Guy sounds like a bit of a nut (or a genius !!). Quit his job at the age of 30 in May 2010. He had never played a round of golf in his life. Pretty average athlete by stated accounts.

Less than halfway to his 10,000 hours he is currently a 5.5 handicap and his goal is to qualify for the PGA tour (through Q-school) after he hits 10,000 hours, sometime in December 2016.

Funding this endeavour through savings he decided not to use to go to Graduate School, presumably.

Not necessarily directly related to hockey but a very cool story, Gongshow. Thanks. I am guessing this guy would be an interesting guest on your radio show, Jason.

Avatar
#16 mouthbreather
August 19 2013, 10:30PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
1
cheers

Indians? Were they from India? Please!

Avatar
#17 Supernova
August 19 2013, 02:39PM
Trash it!
4
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers
Ducey wrote:

Nice Clown Car Gregor! Do they give everyone a helmet or just the good drivers?

The NHL draft must have some impact on the age thing. Because the deadline is Sept 15, anyone born after that would go into the next draft year. A kid born Sept 16 would have to grow up being one of the youngest (because they go on the calendar year), but when he hit junior he would get an extra year and would be the oldest in his draft.

Anthony Mantha drafted in the first round this year is a prime example.

Avatar
#18 geoilersgist
August 19 2013, 03:02PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Great article.

I can't wait to do San Francisco next year. We are driving the coast and planning on doing all those stops.

Avatar
#19 Pucker - B class
August 19 2013, 06:58PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

I've thought about this birthday quite a bit off and on. When I was in minor hockey (back in the Stan Mikita/Bobby Orr days) - the cut-off was June 30th. I don't know when or why they changed it.

I think the Q1 to Q4 difference is quite pronounced at the younger ages and diminishes as they get older. U8, U10, U12. The better (older)players get in the higher tiers, with the more competitive/knowledgeable parents and coaches. The lower tiers may have more 1st year players and inexperienced hockey parents and coaches that aren't as committed to the sport.

By the time they hit U12/U14 - the good players have had better coaching, more ice time and more confidence. Then kids start dropping out because they lose interest (because they aren't doing well) and then factor in body contact, and outside influences (girls?) as the kids become more independent.

This post is too long. This is something any parent of a younger child could (and should) get into a long discussion about. There is an Long Term Development Program (LTAD)creeping into minor sports. Eventually it will blur the age guidelines.

I don't like the Program but it is likely better than what we have, and I can't figure out a better solution.

Avatar
#20 The Oilers Shot Clock
August 19 2013, 09:27PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

This was a chapter of the second freakanomics book as well wasn't it? I think this rule gets amplified in the peewee leagues when you have 6 foot tall kids who shave playing against kids who haven't yet hit puberty. An 11 month age gap is huge at that point in a kids life.

Avatar
#21 Supernova
August 20 2013, 09:35AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers
gongshow wrote:

I used to think that Gladwell was great, however I am increasingly convinced that he is a hack who either steals other people's ideas or else comes up with a thesis and grabs only the appropriate data to support his conclusion.

San Francisco on the other hand, I have all the time in the world for. Lived down the 101 in San Jose for 4 years of school during the dot com boom and loved every trip into the city. It remains my favorite city to visit even after several trips back. Ridiculous sports town, too. Gregor's show today's for me itchy to get on Expedia again.

I am pretty sure Gladwell doesn't say the idea is his own that he just that it would be interesting to determine what makes a "outlier"

I would have to re-read the intro but I am pretty sure he never tried to garner the credit for the 10,000 hours or Age based performance or alot of the other topics in his book.

He is a New Yorker columnist writing about things in books that interest him and things he thought would be interesting to others.

If what he writes about isnt your cup of tea then thats ok. To each their own. Many other authors have also discussed the 10,000 hours.

Avatar
#22 916oiler
August 20 2013, 09:55AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

I live out here and, yes, go do all those things you mentioned!

I might add, there are a ton of incredible breweries around the area. They do tastings. Enough said.

My favorite is called "Speakeasy". Do try.

Avatar
#23 Yakman
August 20 2013, 01:52PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

I would thing if a head start in size is all that separated a player you would see a bigger difference in the lower end of the roster. Those would be the players that dominated junior because they had the head start in size and then disappointed after the draft when the other players caught up.

Avatar
#24 bored
August 20 2013, 04:47PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

My understanding from Outliers was that it was a look at the overall structure of hockey development. He starts by looking at how competitive it has become and that kids are starting hockey at a much younger age (as young as like 3). Thus kids born earlier in the year (assuming a Dec. 31 cutoff) held a physical advantage to kids born later and because of that advantage they were usually the recipients of higher tiering, which meant they received better coaching and played against better competition. I think his point was that success is rarely the result of just hard work and dedication, but also includes a lot of luck and random chance.

I read the book 10 years ago, and this is from memory, but the Bill Gates example was that he, as well, was a product of timing and circumstance. Sure the 10,000 are an additional requirement to success, but without a lot of luck, it may not be enough...

Comments are closed for this article.