Can Success be Explained & Quantified?

I finished reading a book called the Outliers and it made some interesting points about how people acquire success. One of the things mentioned in the book is how hockey players who are born earlier in the year traditionally have an advantage over those born later in the year. Another interesting thing it mentioned is that to become elite at something you need to practice for about 10,000 hours.

Now I understand these are merely guidelines and not rules. Sidney Crosby for instance was born in August and had arguably his best year in the NHL when he was 19. Unless he practiced far more than anyone else, most players throughout history have peaked in their mid-20’s. As a matter of fact, I took some of the best known and most successful players from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic and this is what I discovered:

Crosby – 2006 (19)

Benn – 2014/15 (25,26)

Thornton – 2005 (26)              Canada – Average Age 23.33

Gretzky – 1985 (24)

Lemieux – 1988 (23)

Orr – 1970 (23)


Hull – 1990 (26)

Modano – 1993 (23)             United States – Average Age 26

Housley – 1992 (28)

Kane – 2015 (27)


Fedorov – 1993 (24)

Mogilny – 1992 (23)              Russia – 23.5

Ovechkin – 2007 (22)

Malkin – 2011 (25)


D. Sedin – 2010 (30)

H. Sedin – 2009 (29) Sweden – 29.6

Sundin – 1992 (21)

Alfredsson – 2005 (33)

Lidstrom – 2005 (35)


Selanne – 1992 (23)

Kurri – 1984 (24)

S. Koivu – 2006 (32) Finland – 25.83

Jokinen – 2006 (28)

Numminen – 1995 (27)

Tikkanen – 1986 (21)


Jagr – 1995 (23)

Elias – 2000 (24)          Czech Republic – 23.5


Now I understand most of you will be thinking that it is a small sample size, which I agree. The other critics will claim that it is subjective to what I think was that players most significant season, which I also agree with. My rebuttal  is simply the fact that if a player is on top of his game and elite, it will show up on the stat sheet. There are many other factors, teammates, generation of play, injuries, etc. that also effect a player’s statistics, but generally speaking if they are producing points at the highest level possible, they are elite in skill.

Just looking at the data compiled, however, some questions do stand out. Canada is considered the ‘godfather’ of hockey. In terms of age when their players peak, it is young in relation to the other countries listed. The only one that comes close is arguably the most skilled country in the world, Russia. If this is a pattern, how are Russian and Canadian coaches training their players that allows them to reach that elite threshold quicker?

On the other hand, look at Sweden. Mats Sundin was the only player in that list that peaked at a young age. That list includes the top NHL scorers that country has ever seen. Why is the average age so much older than everyone else? Zetterberg for instance was 27 years old when he scored his career high 92 points in the NHL.

What I am saying here is that  I think if we could find a correlation between the top NHL producing countries, age and training regimen, we could possibly find a common denominator to further educate, train, and build the skills of our players.

Going back to the birth months, out of the 6 countries listed, the top NHL scorer  of all-time, for that country, was born in either January of February. Once again, a small sample size, but three players born in the first two months with the other three players born in the random NINE months after (August, December and July).

Taking it one step further the top 5 NHL point scorers of all-time were born in the first three months of the year. 60% of the top 10 NHL scorers OF ALL TIME were born in the first three months of the year. Even more interesting, Gretzky and Messier were born in the same year, eight days apart on opposite sides of the country.

Stay tuned as I compile more information about the correlation between birthdates, ages, countries and training philosophies.

Do you see anything that I am missing? What are your thoughts?

1 reply
  1. Martin Glantz
    Martin Glantz says:

    Hello. Myt heory is as follows (hope I can express myself well enough in English):

    If one is talented in team sports, one will play junior games most likely also against players that are up to two -three years older and physically more developed, which is a constant challenge and demands one to play at the best level at all time and especially to develop your skills and speed, as you can´t compete physically. But at the end of each junior class where eligibility is determined by the year of birth, a player born in January (e.g.) 2000 might be as much as 364 day older than a player born in December of 2000. Both are eligible to play U18 in 2017 but the older one has a significant advantage of almost a year – if not necessarily in size – in maturity, experience, development of motorics and reflexes and skills and understanding of tactics.
    Thus – as there is talent – there is practically inevitable success which in turn boosts self-confidence. If these are players who play on the offence, they will gather a strong experience and memory bank, where they are successful on the offence. This they carry with them all their careers but it also helps them to be mentally strong entering the major leagues as they can rely on the knowledge of existing and documented talent and success.

    But why do Canadians and Russian get there earlier? Simply because there is more athletic competition in hockey in these countries in this sport. (Well, in Russia in all sports.)
    Finland and Sweden where hockey is the national sport, there still are not even remotely the same masses practising hockey. This means that even if you would have a talent like Gretzky on Crosby, he would not have to work as hard in the early stages of the junior years to excel: there would be less competition and less challenge. Thus the best year amongst the toughest competition (NHL) is delayed.

    For the Swedes, who in their league play much of very controlled mid-rink trap in a big rink the final transition might be bigger than estimated: NHL hockey is faster and in a sense less organised as the puck is just being shot up the ice much more than in a bigger rink.
    That is one reason.

    Another might be, that drafting Scandinavian Juniors and actually signing them at early age and letting them play in the NHL is a relatively new thing. Kurri and Selänne were drafted after Junior Championships, but signed as adults so if there is an adjustment period that every player has to go through, they just got on with it a year or two later than Canadians. With the Russians the drafting and signing changed with the falling of the Iron Curtain.

    Patrik Laine I cannot explain, I´m just happy we have him.

    Martin Glantz, Helsinki, Finland


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