Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Should Your Young Athlete Play Up?

You frequently come across a kid who is playing up. In other words, playing with and against older kids. Should young athletes play up?

Playing with better kids will make your young athlete better if they can compete. The same kid may be better off building up confidence playing well against his or her age. Confidence is the key for me. If they can play up and build confidence that is a great situation.

In our town kids 4 and 5 year olds play Instructional soccer. My daughter played in the Instructional level as a 4 year old. She was quite advanced compared to the other kids and was often frustrated when her teammates failed to pass the ball. In the fall of 2005 when my daughter turned 5, we moved her up to the Passers division to play with 6 and 7 year olds. I was the coach and knew she could do it. She ended up leading the team in scoring that year.

My assistant coach, Coach Joe, had a daughter on the team who was 7 years old. She was a good soccer player. Following the successful season, my assistant coach asked me if I would like to coach with him again in the spring. We worked well together, so I said yes.

When I signed up for the spring season, I noted on the registration that I wanted to be paired with Coach Joe. I got a call from the league saying that Coach Joe's daughter, now 8, was moving up to the Wings division. I told my daughter, who was still 5, that she would not be able to play with Josephine this season because she was moving up to play with 8 and 9 year olds. My daughter asked if she could play up. She heard that term when she played up last season. I told her that it would be a big jump. After thinking about it for a few minutes she said, "Dad, if Josephine can play in that division so can I. I am better than her." I could not argue.

I talked it over with my wife. I agonized over it. We were concerned about our daughter getting hurt. We were concerned about her losing confidence because she would be playing against much bigger, faster and experienced girls. We were concern what other parents would say about us as parents. But my daughter was dead set on playing with her buddy Josephine. I had seen Wings soccer and knew she would not be the worst player on the team. I got the league to give my daughter special permission to play up. To my absolute surprise at the end of the season, my kindergartner daughter was the second leading scorer. Second to a 3rd grader who turned 10 during the season.

My daughter became a better player playing against older kids. She eventually moved back to her age group when she made an elite regional team. She ended up leading that team in both goals and assists.


The size of the heart matters more than the size of the player.

2 comments:

  1. You are exactly what is wrong with youth sports. How many goals scored is completely unimportant at this age. The fact that you stated you are a coach and didn't realize one of your players was moving up is a huge tell. For your daughter's and other kids sake give up coaching and be the type A parent you really are from the other side of the field.

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  2. In all honesty - I just may be making a big mistake with my kids regarding sports. I often wonder if I should be holding them back. Should I convince them to play on less serious teams, for less serious coaches (I do not coach anymore, my kids play on teams with paid coaches now). Should I limit the number of sports they play. My wife and I talk about this all the time. We wonder if we are putting them at risk of overuse injuries. We wonder if they are going to get mentally burned out.

    We talk to our kids often and ask them about their thoughts and concerns. We provide our point of view and our concerns, but we let them make their own decisions. They love to play sports. They love to be on the field with their friends. My daughter will play a double header basketball game and then come home and immediately go out side to our basketball hoop to play more. My son is the same way. Its the way I was wired. Its the way my wife was wired and its how my kids are wired.

    BTW - I agree scoring in soccer especially at that young age is not important. I was using scoring as proof that my daughter was right - that she could play with the older girls. I am glad that she talked me into it.

    Finally, if you read my blog consistently, first and foremost I praise my kids for hustle and hard work. I do not emphasize the statistics with them. Hustle and hard work never goes into a slump. Hustle and hard work will serve them well when their sports careers are over.

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