Should Young Soccer Players Play In Higher Age Groups?

Well this won't be fair - (Photo: Jbj.wordherders.net)

An interesting trend has grown throughout youth soccer.  When a certain player is head and shoulders more talented than everyone around him or her, they often feel the need to play in an older team.  By playing with older kids, they will be thrown into the action against tougher competition, ensuring more even matches and better development for the youngster.  And while such an opportunity does wonders for the player’s confidence in their abilities and makes them feel like a little superstar, is this actually a good thing for them, especially when they are so young?

It all depends on how talented a soccer player the youth actually is, and this can be a tough call for many parents and coaches.  Just because a player is the best kid on their team, does not mean they absolutely need to push themselves against older kids.  In fact, I’m of the opinion that a kid should only be playing on an older team if they are actually a very incredible talent.  By this I mean they are scoring 3 goals a game and simply dominating the play.  They can take the ball past opponents at will and are clearly not challenged one bit by the play.  Most kids who choose to play on an older team are not at this level!

The other problem with allowing a kid to play with older kids is that they may suddenly find themselves going from best kid on the team, to immediate bench scrub.  Sure they get challenged in practice and now struggle in a game, but is that actually good for a player?  Certainly it will be less fun, and it could negatively affect that player’s confidence.

Another thing to consider is the physical nature of playing up a year.  You may be a quick and talented soccer player, but there is a possibility that you will be pushed around against the older kids.  Additionally, there may be a kid who is dominating his or her particular league because they have grown earlier than the others.  Sometimes these players belong in an older group that is more equal in their physical size.

Before enabling a player to compete in an older league, you should have them try a few practices with the older kids and see how they match up.  You can even let them experience playing a few competitive matches before making a final decision.  You don’t want the kid to now be stuck on this older team and struggle.  Make sure the option of moving back is always a possibility.

Adapting to an older league can be a major challenge for a developing soccer player.  Not only will they have to play against tougher opponents, but they will have to meet new players and make new friends.  The experience can be very hard on a young kid.  I only recommend doing such a move if the player is both exceptionally talented and physically able to compete against older kids.  And even then, do so with caution as to not leave the youngster stranded on the bench of an older squad!


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