Moving athletes up: good or bad idea?

Moving athletes up to play or train with older athletes may or may not be a good idea for your child. 

A sports parent asks:

My daughter is quite good at swimming but is only 8 years old. She has been put in a group with 12-15 year old’s and she is suddenly not wanting to go, and getting nervous. What do you think about younger children training with older children of the same ability?

I’m afraid I’m not going to give you a Yes or No answer about moving athletes up. But I will give you some things to think about as you make your decision.

Team Make-up

Do you know kids on the team? Will they have trouble accepting a younger player who may come in and take someone’s spot? And how will the coach handle this situation? Will your child miss teammate friends her own age?

Playing Time Expectations

Sometimes kids get moved up because they are “needed” and end up not getting much playing time. And yes, sometimes they are really needed and do get lots of playing time. I’ve seen both scenarios.

Have a sit-down with the coach and find out exactly what his intentions are.  Once your athlete knows, he can make an informed decision.

Find out if your child must choose: playing time or an opportunity to be challenged in practice and perhaps in the game.

Some kids mature faster

Dr. Patrick Cohn, from Peaksports, explains that “Some kids will naturally mature faster and might benefit from playing up—and competing with older kids. They may be bored if you hold them back as they don’t feel challenged.”

On the other hand, he adds, “But staying at a lower level also means building confidence through greater success and being more comfortable with athletes your own age.”

If your child is more mature physically and skillfully, moving up may be appropriate, just to keep him from hurting smaller kids.

But does he need confidence building–by staying with his own age players–more than a challenge?  Your call.

Try the 3:1 ratio

Gary Simmons from Gymbag Wisdom recommends the 3:1 ratio.
“If you think your young athlete needs better competition, then have him/her play with older kids once after three times playing at their age,” explans Simmons. “The idea is to give them a taste of what’s needed at the next level and then 3 straight sessions at their age developing what they learned that’s needed for the next level. As athletes pass through puberty, the ratio can be decreased if they begin to pick up the advanced skills quickly.”
Ultimately, the choice should be your athlete’s, because has to live with his decision. But you can discuss pros and cons and help him to be thoroughly informed as he decides.

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  1. says

    Thank you! you have certainly given me many things to think over. After reading your response, I think my next step will be to have a talk with her coach about his intentions and plans, and go from there. I really like the concept of the 3:1 ratio. I can see she will benefit from increased confidence AND better competition using this approach.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question.
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    • Janis says

      Nicole, glad you found the answer helpful. This is a hard one. One the one hand, the parent and child feel honored to be asked to move up; on the other hand, sometimes the situation they are moving up into is not the best for them. It’s definitely a case by case situation. I hope it works well for your daughter!

  2. says

    When my son was 10, he was a really good baseball player and got drafted into the “majors” which is most 12 year olds. I didn’t like the idea but my husband was on the fence. League officials told us he “had” to because his skills were too high for the younger league. So we did it and it was a BAD move. That was the last year he played baseball. He felt intimidated by the older kids, and instead of shining like he used to, he was on the bench a lot. I have always regretted being swayed to do that.
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    • Janis says

      Michael Ann, Thanks for sharing that. I’m sorry that it was a bad experience for your son. I hope he has found other places to shine!

      • Janis says

        Ellie, I am so sorry to hear that. That is definitely something that parents need to be aware of when they consider the option of moving their kids up.

  3. says

    Janis – good topic and answers – it all boils down to fun and confidence – if a kid can build confidence and have fun playing / training with older players then it can help an aspiring athlete progress.

    I recently wrote about younger teams playing in older leagues. It was one of my most commented posts –
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    • Janis says

      Thanks! I am always interested in your posts as well, and tweet them. We are on the same page I think when it comes to youth sports!

  4. says

    This post is very nice. As I mother I need to involved in the activity of my children. I still need to guide them even they already have coach in that particular sport.
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  5. says

    Janis, I know you touched on this above but how much of this decision do you believe truly comes down to judging, as a parent, just where you child’s comfort and confidence levels are sitting? Would it also have a great deal to do with the motives of your child ie. Are they looking to go on doing athletics more competitively or is it simply a fun activity for them?

    Anita x

    • Janis says

      Each child’s case is unique and it is a decision that each parent must consider. Yes, you do have to consider each child’s comfort and confidence level. I do not say it is wrong, I just say there are things to consider and it should not be entered into lightly. I’ve seen more negative than positive results from it, though.

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