Do You Have to Play Your Age?
- My son is very small for his age, a late bloomer when it comes to athletics, and has a “bad hockey birthday.” Should I ask if he can “play down” with the younger age group?
- My daughter is big for her age, consistently rated the top player, and has a “good hockey birthday.” Should I ask if she can “play up” with the older kids?
The answer to the first question about playing down is easy: USA Hockey’s rules and insurance do not allow players to play down except in special circumstances (involving an appeals process). In my 15 years as a director I have not been aware of anyone playing down a level.
Deciding whether a player should play up, on the other hand, is a whole different scenario. Yes, there are times when a special talent does have the ability to play up and develop his or her game. Issues to consider include:
- Being big for your age is not a good enough reason to play up. Parents need to ask the director or coach if playing up is best for the child’s development.
- The parents and association leaders need to consider the maturity level of the child who wants to play up.
- Finally and obviously, the player’s ability and skill level need to be considered. It helps to find out where the child fits on the depth chart of a team.
If a player is a top three forward, top two defenseman or number one goalie, it is worth considering playing up.
However, I do not see anything wrong in the developmental process of a player remaining with his or her true birth year. There is nothing wrong with a player dominating at a specific level. In fact, it allows players to gain enormous confidence, which only helps them as they advance in their development each season.
Don’t rush the process. It is a marathon not a sprint!
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Angelo Ricci for sharing his 15 years of expertise as a hockey director in this article. Ricci is founder, head instructor and consultant for Ricci Hockey Consulting. With 20+ years experience as a skills and stickhandling coach, he conducts/oversees more than 40 programs year-round that develop over 1,000 players each year.