Some see late developers. We see tomorrow’s champions.

“When we’re grouping children for sports, we do it by age groups, but the problem is that, within those age groups, we get huge variations in biological age.”

Dr Sean Cumming, Department for Health

A late start for puberty can mean talented sportsmen and women often get overlooked, outclassed or outperformed by their bigger and stronger peers. With strength and speed on their side, early maturers have a major advantage as clubs decide which young players will make the cut.

But a focus on early maturers, which is prevalent across many major sports, puts late maturers at a significant disadvantage and can mean that hidden talent gets missed. The competitive nature of academy football can also mean that early maturing boys play to their strengths, neglecting their technical and tactical development.

Whilst Argentina’s football heroes Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona may have both been late developers who went on to become stars of the future, many more will have been missed in between, struggling to succeed in academy systems.

Our researchers in the Department for Health, in collaboration with Bath IMI, are seeking to challenge these views and are working with a range of sports clubs and associations to trial a new, more intelligent, technique to group and evaluate players.

Biobanding, which selects players according to their physical maturity rather than their chronical age, has huge potential for impact across sports. Our researchers are working with Bath Rugby locally, as well as the Lawn Tennis Association and One Dance UK and have even been approached by British Triathlon and Gymnastics.

We’ve shown that the integration of bio-banding benefits both early and late maturers. Late maturers have greater opportunity to show and use their technical and tactical skills, and adopt positions of leadership. Early maturers are also challenged more physically, forcing them to develop their technical and tactical attributes.

Challenging players in new and innovative ways can create more balanced athletes who are more capable of adapting to new challenges and have greater potential to succeed at the adult level.

Thanks to our work today into bio-banding more young players have a chance of becoming tomorrow’s Premier League and World Cup stars of the future.

Related links

Find out more about Sean Cumming

How ballet training could learn from football and rugby, says report

Dr Sean Cumming talks to BBC Points West about biobanding and our work with Bath Rugby

Bio-banding: How scientists can help late developers become sporting superstars