When should a child play up?

The subject of a child ‘playing up’ above their age category can be a hot topic in youth sports.

It can sometimes be a child’s parents leading the call, but this can be emotion-lead, rather than a claim grounded in reality.

The fact is that there should only be one factor in the decision-making process: what is best for the child.

Here are three reasons for, and three reasons against, playing up.

Three good reasons why a child should play up.

The child is physically ahead of his peers

Some children grow faster than others. It’s a fact of life. It’s also a fact that physically advanced children often do better in sports because they use it to their advantage. It is therefore in the interests of the child's advancement, whether he is playing rugby, football, hockey or whatever, to be pitted against, and placed alongside children who are his physical equal.

The child is technically ahead of his peers

Ever see those videos of kids doing spellbinding things in team sports, leaving the opposition perplexed and their team-mates dumbfounded? Regardless of size, they have that cunning ability to see things before other players and then execute that pass or run. If there is a clear gulf in technical ability between a player and his peers, why keep him back and stunt his growth?

The child is tactically ahead of his peers

Some players have a better tactical grasp of the game than others. They are better at taking on instructions, are invariably in the right place at the right time and are just superior readers of the game to their peers. Providing the rest of their game is up to scratch and they’ll be able to hold their own physically in the age above, playing up could do them the world of good and speed up their development even further.

Three bad reasons why a child should play up

Her parents want her to advance quicker

It is not enough to want. I want to marry Marilyn Monroe, but it isn’t going to happen. As stated, any decision on a child playing up needs to be made in the best interests of the child. Desire on the part of the parents does not come into it. Every parent wants to see their child do well, so if desire played a part, everybody would be playing up. Throwing a child into an advanced age group is likely to do them far more harm than good if they do not have the physical, technical or tactical requirements to hold their own.

She has friends in the group above

Doesn’t matter. It’s great that she has a solid friendship group as that, together with participation in sport, is regarded as one of the key features of a happy adolescence. But that won’t matter a jot if she is desperately out of her depth in the age above and it is actually harming her progression. She can see her friends after the event.

She plays up in other sports

Irrelevant. You wouldn’t allow a brain surgeon to carry out heart surgery. Any decision on a child’s ability and the potential of playing up needs to be based solely on the sport in question. No other sports come into it.


Decisions about playing up are key for the development of a child in their sport. Make the wrong one and it could have a negative physical or mental effect on the child that could seriously hinder their development.

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