The Vancouver Giants hockey team gets front-of-the-book billing in writer Malcolm Gladwell’s latest bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown and Company, $30.99).
Gladwell, a Canadian who rose to fame as a writer for the New Yorker, is best-known for his book The Tipping Point, which focused on how social epidemics begin.
In Outliers, he turns his attention to why some people succeed to a far greater extent than others.
According to Gladwell, Canadians who were born in the first three months of the year have a much greater likelihood of becoming hockey stars. His book begins with a tale about the 2007 Memorial Cup championships in Vancouver, which pitted the Giants against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“Up and down the streets of downtown Vancouver, Memorial Cup banners hung from the lampposts,” Gladwell writes. “The arena was packed. A long, red carpet was rolled out on the ice, and the announcer introduced the game’s dignitaries. First came the premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell.”
Gladwell then describes the game, which was won by Vancouver. Later, he lists the roster of the Medicine Hat Tigers, which showed that 17 of the 25 players were born in January, February, March, or April.
Citing pioneering research by Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley, Gladwell claims that the explanation for this is quite simple.
“It’s simply that in Canada the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey is January 1,” he writes. “A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year—and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity.”
The top players are selected for the travelling “rep” squad, he notes. After this happens, the boy gets better coaching, practises twice or three times as often as the other players, and has better teammates to play with.
“By the age of thirteen of fourteen, with the benefit of better coaching and all that extra practice under his belt, he really is better, so he’s the one more likely to make it to the Major Junior A league, and from there into the big leagues,” Gladwell writes.
The underlying message is that if you want your son to make it to the National Hockey League, time his birth for January.