Is March 23 the best birthday to become a sporting champion?

Roger Bannister, Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Chris Hoy and Mo Farah all celebrate their birthdays today.

March 23: Celebrating success. <strong>William Conran, Danny Lawson, Adam Davy, PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images</strong>
March 23: Celebrating success. William Conran, Danny Lawson, Adam Davy, PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

How many people have grown up thinking they would go on to be the world’s best footballer, or hoping they would one day represent their country at an Olympic event?

Many who do probably put their lack of success down to a lack of ability, opportunity or intent. But it could be much more simple than that; it could be down to your birthday.

On March 23 for example there are four Olympic legends all celebrating a birthday:

These four British men are rightly called legends for a reason. Between them they have 82 medals over Olympic and Commonwealth Games, and Championships both world and European. They have made and broken more records than you probably remember.

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Each has become a household name in their own right with commercial success quickly following on the back of their sporting achievements. Pride and joy not only of their parents, but the nation.

And the chances they are all born on the same day? Actually, they are surprisingly high.

“Let’s say we have 200 of Britain’s greatest athletes,” Dr Liberty Vittert from Glasgow University’s mathematics and statistics department explains.

“The chance that at least four of them have the same birthday is about 50%.

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“That sounds shocking and way too high. But let’s relate to that to a football pitch.

“Football pitches all over the country have 23 people on them. 11 on each side, as well as the referee.

“So the chance that at least two of them have the same birthday out of these 23 on any football pitch in Scotland is also 50%.”

“There is also the relative age effect. So for example, the cut-off age for football players is September 1. And you have a very disproportionate number of players born in a three-month period: September, October and November.

“That’s because a kid born on September 1 has a 12-month age advantage on a kid born on August 31 in the same age group. So they are a bit bigger, depending on the age, and they may be more cognitively advanced.

“So this results in coaches paying more attention to them. Giving them more coaching and feedback.

“So inevitably there is a disproportionate amount of professional football players who are born in September, October and November.

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“The cut-off for Olympic athletic events is January 1. So January, February and March… you have four of your greatest ever athletes born in March.”

In other sports? On this day there is also Bertie Auld, a member of Celtic’s European Cup winning team in 1967, and Fernando Hierro, part of arguably one of the greatest Real Mardrid sides in the “Galacticos”.

There is also Joe Calzaghe, the Welsh boxer with 46 wins in 46 fights.

March was historically one of the few good months for footballers in general during the boom period of school football, as Thom Watt found in this 2014 study.


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