Should Your Child Play Up a Level?

youth hockey player play up a level

The pros and cons of having your young athlete play up a level

By Travis Armideo

(This is an updated version of a previously published article.)

In all sports, at all levels, the best players always rise to the top. It’s a simple fact of life in all sports: the players with the most talent are always going to stand out among their peers, and that typically means they are good enough to advance to the next level of play. Though sometimes, especially for younger athletes, that means advancing to the next level a little too quickly for the sake of player development.

As a parent or coach, it’s only natural to push your best players to play up a level, to play with an older or more advanced group. But is that right?

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of advancing younger athletes to the next level:

Pro: Playing At the Right Level

One of the most damaging things to a young athlete is becoming bored with their sport. When they are superior to the rest of their peers, it may lead to complacency and prevent them from continuing to grow and develop as a player.

Athletes should always want to play at the right level for their skill set; but their skill set and their age group do not always align. If they’re far and away more talented than the other players in their age bracket, it may be time to move them up.

Con: Lack of Physical Development

It’s one thing to move a player up a level because they have a superior talent, but you should also take their physical development into account. This has nothing to do with skill set, but just pure size and strength—something that is especially true for younger age groups, where even a year of physical development can make a big difference.

More importantly, when players aren’t on the same level physically, they are at a higher risk for injury.

Pro: Pushing the Limits to Improve

It’s rarely a bad choice for an athlete to push themselves to improve and become a better player. And one of the best ways to do that is to play against the best competition; something they may not be getting if they’re superior to their peers.

If a player wants to be the best, they need to compete with the best and that means moving to a level that matches their talent and potential.

Con: Pushing the Limits but Not Improving

Prematurely moving to the next level also may affect skill development. While players shouldn’t play too far below their skill range, there is a benefit to being the big fish in a small pond. It gives them the ability to try new skills in a less stressful environment.

When athletes are constantly pushing themselves to play at the next level, they don’t really have that option to just “play around” or the freedom to try new things. That’s because the stakes are higher and more competitive.

Con: Lack of Maturity Level

Much like physicality and skill set, playing up a level also requires more maturity. Higher levels of play place demands on younger athletes that they may not be ready for, like practice intensity and in-game awareness.

When players are unprepared for this commitment, their growth as an athlete may be harmed.

Pro: Learning From Experience

When they play up a level, athletes have the ability to learn from more mature and experienced players. Younger players tend to develop “big brother” relationships with the veterans. This helps them to learn and develop both on and off the ice, court, or field.

Remember, it isn’t just the coaches players learn from, but their teammates as well.

The Takeaway: There are pros and cons to pushing your young athlete to play up a level. So when it comes to player development, you always want to do what is best for the individual player.

Travis Armideo is the Marketing Manager at Gladiator Custom Mouthguards. is reader supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

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