What top soccer players tell us about astrology

Nearly every newspaper carries a horoscope column. Almost everyone knows what “sign” they are. Most people do not take astrology too seriously, reading their horoscope for amusement if they read it at all. However, some people take pains to study the characteristics of the different signs and make assessments of people based on what sign they are, and attempt to model behavior or predict the future based on astrology. Others pay significant money to astrologers for a personalized chart. A 2003 Harris poll found 31% of U.S. adults stated they believed in astrology.

A simple question to ask someone who believes in astrology is why it works. What method do the planets or stars have of influencing one’s behavior, personality and future? It’s certainly not gravity, since the doctor who delivered you had a larger gravitational effect on you than Pluto did. (Assuming the doctor weighs 5kg and was 5 centimeters away from you; Pluto weighs 7.15×109kg and was at least 2.76×1014 centimeters away. Plus it’s not even considered a planet anymore.)

The good thing about astrological claims is that they’re testable. If someone says that Aries are supposed to be fearless and impulsive, one can design a survey and then check if those who answer the survey about impulsiveness who are Aries answer the questions differently. There’s a fair bit of research into the claims of astrology, and the most significant debate centers around the so-called Mars Effect, which claims those born during times Mars is ascending are more likely to excel at sports.

A fair amount of research seems to confirm that birth month has a significant correlation with excellence in sports.

Victory for astrology? Not so fast.

In the last few years, research into “relative age” has shown interesting results. Let’s start with soccer. Each soccer club and soccer camp has an age requirement. Imagine, for example, a summer soccer camp that requires the campers to be nine years old when the camp starts in June. So a kid born in May nine years ago will barely be able to make it in, while a kid born in September nine years ago will have to wait a year. It turns out that the “older” nine year olds tend to do much better in camp. Since they’re older, they’re generally more coordinated and can run faster and longer — which makes them tend to be picked first, which gives them more self-confidence. That early experience often seems to carry through the rest of their soccer career. This chart, for example, from a University of Alberta study, shows how world cup youth soccer players born in the first three months after the eligibility cut-off blow away those born in the other nine months.

I have little doubt that relative age affects a lot more than just sports. Parents tend to want to push to have their children moved up a grade, but it may be the exact opposite approach (thus having your child be among the oldest in the class) will have profound benefits that affect your child throughout his or her life.

I certainly believe astrology is junk. But I also believe we should pay attention to the research showing that the month of a child’s birth is actually quite important.

3 Responses to “What top soccer players tell us about astrology”

  1. Astrolomagician Says:

    Here is why astrology works: The supreme being, let’s call him god, decided to run a simulation that would derive all the possible personalities in attempt to find the perfect human. He took all the conceivable personality traits and put them in variables. He then setup a simulation to run through all the possible permutations.
    The stars, planets and moons are the symbols we created to understand our universe. They are also the storage devices for god’s variables.
    Astrology is the attempt to understand the pattern created by the simulation and how it determines personality.

  2. Stephen Says:

    Great! So let’s test that explanation scientifically. If astrology has predictive value for those patterns you talk about, can I propose some experiments to see how well it works?

  3. Astrolomagician Says:

    OK, let’s do it.
    Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work and then I am forced to destroy you with my mind.

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