Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Jess C. Dixon

Second Advisor

Sean Horton


Ice hockey, Positive youth development, Relative age effect




When properly structured, sport has the capacity to offer athletes numerous positive outcomes. However, the seemingly simple procedure of dividing athletes by chronological age causes relative age disparities which are associated with varying sporting experiences and opportunities for participation. Relative age effects (RAEs) are developmental (dis)advantages associated with an individual’s birthdate and where that falls relative to a pre-determined cut-off date. The objective of this dissertation was to explore differences in positive youth development (PYD) across the relative ages of female ice hockey players, as well as to determine if the mechanisms that contribute to athletes’ acquisition of PYD differed by relative age. This aim was accomplished through three interrelated studies. In Chapter 2, differences in leadership behaviours were examined while accounting for athletes’ relative age. The findings of this study illustrated that the frequency with which female ice hockey players engage in leadership behaviours did not vary by relative age, supporting prior research in male ice hockey. Chapter 3 expanded the investigation of relative age on PYD by exploring how positive and negative developmental experiences differ by athletes’ relative ages. The results of this study showed that relative age was not a differentiating factor in female ice hockey players’ developmental experiences. Thus, the findings from Chapters 2 and 3 suggest that if female ice hockey players can overcome the initial selection bias associated with relative age, then their opportunities for PYD appear to be equitable. Chapter 4 builds on Chapters 2 and 3 by including interviews with relatively older and younger female ice hockey players that sought to gain insight into what mechanisms contributed or hindered their development of PYD outcomes. Secondary aims included determining if PYD outcomes varied by relative age as well as how athletes employed these skills in other contexts. The social features of the sport environment, the structure of female travel/rep ice hockey, and negative ice hockey experiences (e.g., difficult team dynamics, challenges with coaches, playing on boys’ teams) served as the overarching mechanisms that facilitated or hindered athletes’ development of PYD outcomes. Regardless of their relative age, athletes reported developing PYD outcomes in the personal, physical, and social domains as well as using these skills in many contexts outside of hockey. Future research is needed to explore if relative age influences PYD among those who have dropped out of sport. The findings from this dissertation can be used to inform the design of sport programming that aims to achieve PYD.