One question I regularly receive from parents with kids involved in youth sports is whether they should play their child up in age due to their son or daughter’s above-average athletic abilities. While this is obviously a unique decision for each family that examines this option, it is important to outline some of the pros and cons associated with the decision (Sport Success 360):
– The most obvious is better competition. For kids who are physically and emotionally ready, they may benefit from playing against other talented kids as compared to dominating kids their own age.
– Possibly more games. When kids go from recreation to travel leagues (or elite leagues), they often play more games. In theory, playing more games usually leads to more rapid skill acquisition and development.
– A fast litmus test to see whether the sport will be of long-term interest. For kids who have only played a handful of games against inferior opponents, they may only come to realize their interest (or lack thereof) for a particular sport once they play against similarly talented athletes.
– For most kids, playing against other kids their age makes perfect sense and allows for even and fair competition. When kids “play up,” they usually struggle with the transition, resulting in a deterioration of their self-confidence for that sport. The loss of confidence will almost certainly impact sport development, success, and long-term commitment.
– Increased risk for injury. When kids play against bigger and more mature kids, the risk of injury increases as well.
– Loss of interest in the sport. Kids excel in sports when they “lock in” to playing. This means that focus, motivation, and resiliency are at their highest levels when kids feel as though they have a real chance to compete (and win), versus playing against kids they fear and believe they will lose to.
The Bottom Line
For the vast majority of kids, playing against other kids their own age and skill level makes the most sense. In fact, kids are more likely to get “in the zone” when they are fairly matched against similarly talented kids and teams. Unfortunately, when some kids play up a league, they begin to experience self-doubt, which results in increased anxiety and poor athletic experiences.
Think about sports the same way you do academics. Would your child be better off with honors or AP classes, or is she better suited for the standard educational curriculum offered at her school? The pros and cons are similar to sports in many ways, as not all kids will benefit by getting in over their heads (in school or in sports). Make a decision that’s best for your family, and be sure to revisit the decision annually in order for the best results to occur.
Check out our performance enhancing products for athletes here!