Should players move up an age group?

Ask Dave

As the season draws to a close I am already thinking about next season and some of the better players are showing they could easily move from the team they are in to older teams that would benefit from having their abilities. How do I make the decision to push them up or not?

U14 Girls Coach

Dave says

This is a question I get asked a lot and I am always telling coaches to ask themselves some hard questions because it can be a make or break kind of decision.

Under no circumstance should coaches exploit the situation by holding players back in their quest for winning team championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate their ascension to the top of the soccer pyramid.

When evaluating your players, it is important that you don’t confuse your players’ biological age with their ‘soccer age.’ Each player’s “soccer age” is unique to the individual.

I have a tried and tested method to make sure coaches do not make the wrong judgement for the players involved – 9 times out of 10 I would say don’t move them but that doesn’t work for every player I have had the pleasure to coach.

If you’re considering moving a young player into an older team, first try asking yourself these six important questions that every good coach should be able to answer

Are they good enough?

Often at clubs with not enough team members in certain age groups, some players are encouraged to play up a year to help make up the numbers. While this is understandable, as a team’s survival may depend on being able to send out a full complement every week, it is important to resist this temptation if there are any doubts about the player’s ability to make the step up. If they find themselves out of their depth, it could put them off the game for good.

Should players move up an age group

Hard decisions have to be made over which team players move to

Are they strong enough?

They may have all the skill sets required to cut it playing in an older group but if they aren’t physically up to the task, these skills might not have a chance to shine. Make sure the player you are considering moving up is physically robust enough to deal with what faces him – not so much foul play or over physical challenges, but the more general rough and tumble that comes with the game.

Can they cope mentally?

It’s not easy being the youngest in a team, particularly if it’s by a distance. Players moving up may suddenly lose the confidence they require to express themselves. A born leader in one age group might not be able to cope with the fact they arrived in a new team at the bottom of the pecking order. Then there’s the question of whether they have the mental maturity to deal with the social side of the team, which moves on as kids develop.

Will they fit in?

All the youth soccer research suggests the main reason for playing in a team is for players to enjoy themselves with their mates. Ask yourself as their coach: will they make new friends? Have they got existing friends in the year above that might help them settle in quickly? Are they the sort of kids that will make new friends easily? Without friends, the enjoyment of playing can quickly be lost.

Can they cope tactically?

It might be that by moving up a year group new players suddenly have to deal with new tactical challenges, such as coping with the offside rule or having to play in the different formations imposed by moving from 7v7 to 9v9 for example. Or, it could be simply that the older players are playing a more sophisticated style and utilising more complicated tactics.

Will it improve them?

When it comes to playing up, despite all of the things that you need to be wary of as a manager, there are still kids who can benefit enormously by doing so. Sometimes talented, strong and mentally capable youngsters can get held back a bit by playing at their own age level, so moving up and having the fresh challenge of playing with older players can really start to bring the best out of them.

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