Playing Up

One of the most frequently asked questions I field concerns the appropriateness of young players playing up an age group or two.  I do not have a standard pat response because it really does depend on the individual and the specific circumstances of the situation .There are some guidelines that can help the player and his family make this important decision.  These we will explore in today's writings.

There are four areas of development that must be considered, evaluated and continually re-evaluated in the course of a players development; Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological.

A players Technical ability is often the eye candy that prompts talk of moving a player up an age group.  Technically dominant players "need more of a challenge" than their age appropriate peers can provide them is often a keyconsideration.

Tactical development is tied directly to the development of critical thinking skills in the player. We seldom hear of moving a player up because he is tactically advanced of his age appropriate peers.  I have seen a few young players who would meet this criteria, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

A player who is physically dominant - bigger, stronger, faster - always seems to be a primary candidate for being moved up. A player who dominates at his own age group based on physical ability is not a good candidate for promotion unless technical (and tactical) ability is also advanced.

Psychological considerations I will restrict to ideas about how the young athlete will fit in socially with older players. This is an important consideration as the player needs to feel accepted and part of the team both on and off the field.

Freddy Adu is an example of a recent phenom in America.  Adu was promoted through the ranks at a rapid pace and was generally regarded as this countries best soccer prodigy... ever.  Before just reading his name here, when was the last time you heard about Freddy Adu? His is a cautionary tale when it comes to consideration of moving a player up. 

For the record, my sons all played up an age group as youth players. Sometimes it was because we had no choice. For example, two age groups were often combined to make a single team.  U11 & U12 would play together as a U12 team.  Other times they did truly play up an age group or two.  I relate this to make a point that competitive level is also a consideration whether to play up or not.  It is far easier and perhaps more appropriate to play up at a recreational level than it is to do so a Premier competitive level. That said, the more competitive organizations and levels of play are usually more receptive to allowing individuals to play up.

Finally, I want you to consider what has been lamented as the lack of creativity in American soccer players. The eye candy mentioned in the third paragraph of this article is often punctuated by clever on-the-ball problem solving skills that leave age appropriate peers dumbfounded while the young "star" maneuvers to goal seemingly at will.  In my opinion, it is critically important the candidate for promotion retain a strong measure of the ability to problem solve in this manner. To diminish this advantage often equates to stunting the development of creativity in young players. 

Think of it in this manner - promotion to an advanced age group will undoubtedly force the development of team tactical considerations but this cannot come at the expense of individual in-game problem solving or what we call creativity. You want a well-rounded player and so it is important not to promote the young player based on a single or even a couple considerations.  All, or at least a preponderance of the considerations outlined here need to be met before a player should be allowed to play up.

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