It can be easy for parents to push the envelope with their children when it comes to youth sports. They believe their child is the best of the bunch and they want him or her to be challenged against the best possible competition. For many that means playing up to the next age level.
A select group of athletes are good enough to play with older players, their talents well beyond what most of their peers possess, but for most, the impact of playing up can have a negative effect in the long run.
“Sports are about long-term development. There is no reason to rush the process,” said Ryan Hardy, the director of player personnel for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. “There is a lot of value in taking your time rather than rushing to play up a level.”
If Hardy had his choice when it comes to young athletes, he believes the best situation for them is to stay within their age group, both for on-ice and off-the-ice purposes.
“I prefer it because it not only helps them develop better from a skill standpoint, but it benefits them socially and emotionally,” he said. “Sometimes being around older kids they hear or learn things they don’t need to at their age. If parents are going to play their child up a level, they need to make sure the situation is right for the child.”
Hardy also noted that in hockey, playing up isn’t a common occurrence.
“It’s still rare in our sport for kids to play up,” Hardy said. “There are not a large number of players that benefit from playing up a level.”