When Should Your Player “Play Up”?

7 Oct

I’ve given some thought over the past few months about my younger son’s progression with the game of soccer.  He’s a young five year old now – but he is probably among the best players in his recreation age group at our club.

He’s developed well with technical skills like dribbling, passing, and ball control.  He’s also developing patience with the ball and seems to be looking at the field better (at least as much you can tell on a small field).

So he’s in U6 this year – and we play 3v3 on a 20 yard field.  Would he be better served playing up into the next age group of our club?  U7 is the first age group at our club that splits out from being co-ed to single gender.  The field size also increased from 20×10 to 40×20, adding goalkeepers and moving total players on the field to a 5v5 scenario.  There’s also a tighter adherence to the laws of the game – throw-ins, corner kicks, and goal kicks and real kick-offs are all required.

So what would Evan gain and lose by going up to the next age group?

More Competitive Players

U7 players would be bigger than Evan and would possess probably a more equal skill set with him on average.  In practices and scrimmages, I’ve played him against Aidan’s U8 teammates and there was a good match up of skills.  Evan is very willing to scrap for the ball against opponents and this skill would serve him well going to the next level.

He could also have some opportunities to play alongside other kids at a similar development point and be able to develop his own passing game.  However – he did that without prompting or instruction last spring with two of his U5 teammates.  It was completely organically developed and might happen again this fall.

No Real Differences in Training

I haven’t seen much of a difference in the technical training of our club at U6 and U7.  We probably have spent more time in U6 on basic dribbling whereas in U7 and U8 nominally more time with turning and passing.

However – I’ve enrolled both of the boys in our club’s added skills training program.  This is giving them both a foundation in the higher level turning, feints, and ball skill work that hasn’t been present so far in their age group training.

I’m encouraging him to take these skills into his games and practice them there and use them under pressure.
Less In-Game Time on the Ball

Even the “Alphas” on the team get less time on the ball when you put two extra players on the field.  There’s also a lot more field to cover.

When Would I be in favor of Playing up?

There is a time and place for playing up – and I think it’s when there is an advantage in the coaching and training.  I could see moving a U7 player into pre-Academy or a U8 program if there is a difference in the coaching and practice times.

Of course, every player has different abilities to cope with the emotional and mental part of moving up an age group.  The mental part requires players to no longer play alongside their same-age school mates.  They will also move from being a top player in their team to probably in the ranks of average players initially.
What are the Alternatives to Playing Up?

  • Added skills training.  Seek out a program at your club or another for added skills work.
  • Pick up soccer.  Find other kids in similar age groups and play in non-coached environments.  Playing with mixed age group kids will upgrade the skills of the younger kids and also teach the older kids to lead on the field.
  • Open training.  If you club allows kids to come to training for outside of their age group.



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