Professional at 14.
Representing his country at 16.
Freddy Adu was billed as the next big thing in 2004.
As I write this now, he is out of contract as a professional footballer.
How can a 'natural' without any major injuries, deviate so far away from their trajectory?
One of the reasons may have been something labelled as "the relative age effect".
In the UK, the school year begins in September. Children born closer to the start of the school year can have large physical maturation advantages over children born at the end of the school year.
Think about it. If school starts on September 15th, a kid born on September 14th can be competing with kids almost a full year older than them. A year during adolescence can amount to large physical differences.
Sometimes these differences in maturation aren't linked to birthday.
During my own teen years, I grew to my full adult height and weight by age 13 but my birthday was in the middle of the school year.
Anybody watching a 13 year old me would have had me down as an athletic beast (I practically had a moustache and was endlessly complained about for being over-age by opposition teams' parents). If they'd have come back three years later, the differences between my peers and I would have diminished. By 20, they would have vanished.
We can't do anything about our rate of maturation but we can in our society be punished for it.
To this day even in elite sport, physical maturation is a major factor in talent identification and development. The more mature individuals can be short-sightedly selected by those in power (teams and coaches. The less mature are deselected. The scenario then unfolds where the maturationally advanced individuals become advantaged in one of the ways I discussed in the previous parts of this piece.
They receive quality coaching and competition on a consistent basis that their less mature counterparts receive, widening competitive gaps further.
Were you denied some great opportunities for athletic development because you matured later? If so, is it any case you aren't a 'natural'?
Size and maturation aren't the only physical separators for some 'naturals'. Some people seem programmed to move smoothly like gazelles where others move more awkwardly like farm-yard animals.
Is this inborn?
Find out tomorrow,
Arton "Formerly a man-child" Baleci