This is nothing new. In all sports once a skilled child is recognized by a coach or coaches in an organization the question becomes “should we move him / her up to help with his / her development?” On the other side of things you also have parents pushing for their child to be moved up.
At what age is it “safe” to do so?
In a recent study put out by Peter K. Kriz et al. (The Journal of Pediatrics, January 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.12.006) found that less physically mature players took on average 54 days or nearly 40 percent longer to recover from concussions than more physically mature players from concussions.
Although it is one study it does beg the question – is it worth moving your child to an older age group to improve his /her skills of their chosen sport.
Generally at younger ages before your child reaches puberty a one year difference in age does not make a difference physically and it is the same for mixing both sexes together.
The differences begins at puberty. We know that in general females start to develop into their bodies earlier than males.
That being said you can take two eleven year old boys and put them side by side and see a significant difference in height, size and musculature. The boys in the picture below are all 11 years old
Picture courtesy nature.com
This is natural as each child physically matures on their own time as determined by their genetics.
Winning At All Costs Mentality
In a sport culture as you know, there is still a winning at all costs mentality where coaches and parents are more interested in either their winning record or living their life through their child that they blindly push either bigger unskilled children or smaller highly skilled children to play up a year or two in age.
But is that the best for long term development of that child?
I have personally treated quite a few hockey and soccer players with concussions who for whatever reason have been moved up in age to further develop their skills.
I have also had to deal with broken wrists with preadolescent and adolescent female soccer players who were physically weaker and smaller than their same age peers.
Play a Year Down?
If you take a look that picture above, would you have them put on skates or play soccer or rugby against each other? Would there be any value to have them play at their own size and weight class? Would you have the biggest boy play in the age group younger than him so he could improve his skating or dribbling skills?
You have to decide as to what you think is the best situation is for your child’s development.
Pushing a smaller better skilled player to move up a year in age may lead to injuries, frustration and possibly burn out.
Time for reality check. A younger highly skilled player moved up a year or two becomes a target for their own team during training and the opposition during games. They may either have the skill or physique to do so but do they have the mental maturity to be playing with others older than them.
This is a reality that most do not want to acknowledge.
What is the Ultimate Goal for My Child?
If you are a parent or coach you need to ask yourself “what is the ultimate goal for my child?”
There are several benefits to playing an age group down.
First your child will be playing with other children of similar physical stature. Keeping this in mind your child will feel more comfortable being “physical” playing the game and trying new moves with the ball or puck.
Playing down is way to give your child more confidence in their ability to the sport at a higher level. Why not let your child be the big fish in the small pond? What if this made a difference to your sons’ or daughters’ confidence?
Finally I do believe you want to do what is best for your child in the sport they participate in.
In my next article I’ll discuss ways on how you can help your child minimize the chance of getting a concussion or injury.