Oh how everyone talks as if they know what “development” is, and how to do it. Sigh …
Let’s talk a little bit about “playing up” and whether it helps or not.
This weekend our U11’s are going to play in a U12 tournament. This isn’t the first time competing up either. The last was during the summer (we were U10’s then). We won that competition and I attended the final match against one of the best U11 teams around. That game ended in a 1-0 victory, but it just felt wrong from a development perspective. You see giving up one year of physical maturity makes a huge difference at this age. The result is simple, the boys can’t execute what they’re being taught.
Now before you start trying to apply all kinds of logic as to how this is a good thing, do you really know? Have you done this with youth soccer and seen it through all the way to the professional level? Have you done studies? Do you have a set of metrics you’ve tracked?
I sure don’t.
My current line of thinking is that playing up is fine for an individual, but not necessarily a team.
The idea pretty much goes that playing up helps kids with speed-of-play. It forces them out of their comfort zones, thereby pushing them to exceed their current limits. Their decision-making must be quicker, their defending sharper, and their technique tighter.
Yes. All true. So I green light top-shelf individuals playing up on age appropriate teams. If you’re a U10, go ahead and play with a U11 team.
But when an entire team plays up, we’re not talking about the same thing anymore. Here you are not just taxing the individual, you are taxing the entire organism that is the team. The challenge gets compounded!
You are taxing the tactical – the style of play. The very things your kids are in the beginning stages of learning (at the collective team level) are being compromised. At this point, I’m thinking it’s far more useful/developmental for teams to be competing age appropriate. That is a better environment for them to learn the tactical. Because they actually have a chance to execute it, hence understand it and begin to master it. Once there’s mastery, then it’s time to raise the bar.
U11? I don’t know man, that’s pretty early. These kids have a looooooooong way to go. It’s fine to test your metal, and I think in some way you at least get to see where you stand. But from a tactical learning perspective, I’m not convinced. I think entire teams playing up is an experiment.