For the right athlete, playing up a level can improve development, increase exposure and build confidence.

Sir Matt Bubsy, the manager of Manchester United, once said, “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough”. While some disagree with Bubsy on the controversial topic of “playing up”, there’s no denying it benefits players who are ready for the challenge. Playing up allows competitive athletes to develop quickly, get more exposure and build confidence.

Drive Development

As competitors, young athletes have a burning desire to become better, to take their game to the next level. Playing up will offer athletes quicker development because they have to keep up with older, stronger kids in an environment designed to test them. Without size on their side, they’ll have to rely on improving their technique and agility.

But their competition will also be smarter tactically. While playing up, players are exposed to a faster-paced, more experienced game. Players have to develop their cerebral understanding of the game faster to stand a chance. This forced focus on skills and awareness of the game can really advance a player’s development.

Get More Exposure

Older teams play in competitive games and tournaments, so the athletes will be more likely to get noticed. Normally an eighth-grader wouldn’t be getting looks from college scouts—but if he or she is playing on a team of freshmen, there’s now a stronger possibility of catching a coach’s eye. Just one year can make a huge difference in a player’s future.

“When we would go into tournaments, we would enter the tournament and play up with teams that were older than us. We would always be reaching for a higher level. That also put us on the coaches’ radar.” - Div. I Basketball Player

Not only are older teams more likely to be seen by recruiters, they’re also more likely to use video. Watching and learning from video at a young age will help players prepare for playing on teams at a higher level. They’ll also have a full history of their growth to showcase. This early exposure can play a very important role in getting players to the next level.

Build Confidence

Playing up an age group may take an initial toll on a player. But in the long run, playing up can have a positive impact on their self-confidence. A player’s belief in their own abilities plays a key role in performance. This kind of confidence doesn’t always occur naturally—but is a skill that can be learned through focus, effort and preparation.

Being able to compete with older, more experienced players is encouragement in itself. Far-fetched dreams, like making the varsity team as a freshman, will become realistic. Players will feel more capable and self-assured in their abilities because they’ll know the tough environment they chose has lead them to reach their full potential.

Though a great opportunity for athletes who want a challenge, playing up is definitely not for everyone. Factors like the amount of playing time, how the player will stack up physically, and the intensified mental demands are important to consider. Overall, the player’s best interest should be the number one priority— for some, that’ll mean playing up a level.

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