A reader asked me the following question, paraphrased:
How do you decide whether you should have a player “play up” on a higher level team? Examples of this are a Junior Varsity aged player going up to the Varsity team, or a 16s player going up to the 18s team.
You could also toss in the idea of a teenager playing on a primarily adult team. This is something we rarely see in the US, but happens quite frequently in other places.
Can they hang with the older players?
The first way to look at this is a simple one. Will the player be able to keep up with the older ones. It’s fine if they are the worst one in the group, but you don’t want a “drill killer” situation. That’s one where a given player, because of insufficient ability, makes it very difficult to run a drill or game properly.
Having those sorts of players in a team is a recipe for trouble. You can’t do what you want as a coach. The other players resent the weaker one. The weaker one feels bad about it and suffers from stress, anxiety, lack of confidence, etc. It’s not a good situation.
Are they OK not getting much court time, if any?
Here’s where things start to get trickier. Presumably, the younger player will be one of the weaker members of the team (though this certainly isn’t always the case). If so, it’s going to be hard for them to crack the starting lineup, and maybe to get any court time at all – at least for a while. Is the player going to be OK with that? Perhaps even more importantly, are the parents going to be on board with it, realizing the focus is mainly on training at a higher level?
From a team chemistry perspective, a disgruntled younger player probably won’t matter too much. They tend not to have a strong influence on group dynamics. That doesn’t preclude them and/or their parents becoming a major pain for you as the coach, however. That’s why expectations have to be VERY clear from the outset.
Are they mature enough?
Another aspect of this is the player’s maturity level. Will they be OK spending time with older players? And turning that around, how will the older players likely handle having a younger one in the squad?
This is very likely a conversation you’re first going to have to have with the parents. After all, they know their child a lot better than you do. You’ll also want to talk about things with key members of the team to get their view, and probably to provide guidance as to how you want the younger player treated.
Can you split time?
Something to consider in this is a situation where the player remains part of their age appropriate group, but sometimes works in with the older group. When I coached in Sweden, the club had a 2nd team that played in the 2nd division (you see this a lot around the world). It was mostly made up of teenagers. We sometimes brought one or two of them into 1st team practice to give them exposure to the top group. This is the sort of thing you can think about doing when the factors above don’t line up for one reason or another.
Of course, you have to consider the player’s schedule in terms of workload and everything else. You also want to make sure you ensure that you put them into practice situations where they can have some degree of success. It’s OK if they struggle. That’s to be expected. If they don’t have any success at all, though, it will be difficult for them. You’ll probably have a hard time getting them to come back again.
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