Should Talented Players Play Up in Age

Boy o’ boy do I hear this question all around the youth soccer arenas.

For sake of this argument, I am referring to kid’s in the initiation stages from U6 to U12.

Generally, my answer to this question is:


I will go more into this in just a moment.

However, with every rule there are exceptions.  Really, the only exception feasible here is that they are playing up to learn under a great coach which is a facilitator of proper youth development…If you can’t find a quality coach at your child’s age group and there is one with a team a year older then I can see the benefits of that decision.

Currently, I have one girl on my U9 team and 3 boys on my U8 team that are all playing up one year with me.  If there is a coach their age group next year that I believe will set them on the right path then you better believe I will recommend to their parents to take advantage of that option.

So why?  Most people have this preconceived notion that playing up means that their kids, playing with bigger and faster kids, will develop at a greater pace.  They believe that the speed of play will be higher and their kids will develop at a faster rate.

No cigar my friends?  Like I told you all before, these ages are about building the foundations these kids will need to move forward.  It isn’t about the competition they are playing against.  It is about grasping the learning objectives, techniques and concepts they will build on for the rest of their careers.

Putting kids in a faster environment with players that are bigger and stronger forces them to do one thing:  Utilize their athleticism!  Instead of allowing the kid to make good soccer decisions, they are being forced to compensate with athleticism due to the lessening of time to make decisions.

Here is perfect example about the cognitive differences between kids 9 and kids 15.  When you work with kids at 15 within a possession oriented objective, you can even out the teams and play 6 v 6 because they are at a cognitive level where they can make those split second decisions and overcome situations with even numbers while maintaining possession of the ball.

On the other hand, when you are working with 9 year olds in a possession based game you almost always have 1 or 2 players up on the offensive end to keep the possession moving.  Kids at this age can’t make split second decisions.  They have to analyze the situation and that takes a bit more time.  The extra players allow them the advantage they need to execute.  Possession soccer at this age is more about taking logical positions on the field in support and keeping the ball with your teammates.  At 15, I is about making deceptive runs in and out of space to elude defenders and open up space for yourself and your teammates.

What I am really trying to say here is that the initiation stages of development are about mastering concepts.  The more time kids have on the ball, the less pressure there is against them.  Thus the more time they have to make a decision.  Good or bad, kids need to get accustomed to analyzing the game situation and making decisions.  The success and failure of that decision making process is what breeds development and ultimately success.

Why would you want to take away that extra moment of decision making from your child and force them to count on the one thing that is sure to fail them in the end.


If you ever have a chance to visit a professional youth soccer academy in South America or Europe, pay attention to the younger years.  You will notice very quickly that they are age appropriate.  When they get 14 or so and move into the compound of the academy full time you will start to see the more talented players pushed to the higher teams.  At that stage kids are ready to really compete an can benefit from the faster and more physical pace of play.

Let me know what you think…

Coach Randle

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