What do you think about younger teams playing against older teams?
Last year, my daughter's AAU team finished #1 in Ohio and ended the season #9 in nation at the conclusion of the 2011 AAU National Championship in Orlando, Florida. One of the reasons for the success achieved in state and national tournaments can be attributed to playing against older, faster and bigger competition leading up to the top tournaments.
The coach is following the same path this year. She entered the 5th grade team in a 6th grade winter league and in 6th grade tournaments.
Playing older, faster and bigger competition has advantages and disadvantages. The following advantages assumes that the younger team can actually compete with the older teams.
- The team learns how to play against strong teams.
- The team learns how to break the press against stronger, faster and often tougher guards.
- The team learns how to get rebounds despite being outsized.
- The team learns how to win close games instead of blowing out every team.
- The team learns how to lose - going 40 and 0 before a tough national tournament can add to the stress.
- The team learns how to shoot over taller competition.
- The team learns how to create space and move without the ball.
- The team learns how to help on defense because older, faster kids will often breakdown a younger defender.
- The team learns how to work hard for points because nothing comes easy.
- The team could lose confidence.
- The faster paced game could create bad habits - picking up the dribble to early, forcing bad passes, avoiding drives to the rim, etc.
- Some players could get hurt against bigger players. Our team is very big for a 5th grade team so this is not a problem as a team, but some players on the team are undersized. My daughter is one of those smaller players.
The Main Point
I worry about the injury risk because my daughter is so small compared to most of the older competitors, but I am not worried about her confidence waning. She does get disappointed when she doesn't play well against a bigger and faster opponent but she doesn't get discouraged. Conversely, her confidence soars when she plays great against players who should be better than her based on their bigger size and extra year of experience.
Regarding bad habits, in the beginning of last year my daughter was overwhelmed by the faster and stronger players and she often pick up her dribble too quickly and made hasty passes. Still, she never seemed discouraged or intimidated. And the coach did not give up on her. She progressed greatly over the year and this year she moves the ball with so much more confidence and purpose.
Overall, I think that teams should play up against older teams if they are exceedingly better than the same age competition in their area. A good team that wants to do well in state and national tournaments needs to find the right competition level to challenge them and make them better. For me enjoyment of the game and confidence is the key to success, so a team should never move up to an older league if it will erode the confidence of the players or take the fun out of the game for the players.
This past weekend, CC's 5th grade team came in second in a 6th grade Cincinnati Christmas Classic Tournament. They lost a low scoring physical game in the finals 15-18 against the 6th grade team from the same select basketball club. CC was the smallest player on the court, but she scored 6 points and was called upon to attempt the game tying 3 point shot with 3.5 seconds left. She got the shot off, but it did not go in. She was proud in defeat.