Playing Players in Different Age Groups
Playing Players Across Age Groups
What age group should players play within? It's an age old discussion that has caused arguments through sporting history. Coaches through out the world will have different ideas and different approaches to player development, this might involve players playing in 'different' age groups. The challenge when 'banding' players together has always been difficult for schools and sporting environments.
In some parts of the world students are grouped on a normal year Jan - Dec. In places such as Japan this is April to April and in the UK this is often September - August. This creates environments where players playing together potentially have a near year between them in physical and emotional development. During the adolescent years, this can be huge difference for players and people.
Birth date is not the only factor that effects development, people develop at different rates, based on genetics, ethnicity and gender. This means that each player within the group is an 'individual' and might need a different program to other players. This is where players might need to play across different age groups, in order to find a realistic and meaningful challenge.
Playing down an age group, often has a negative connotation for players. But this can actually be a significantly important opportunity for young players. A player born in July in England, will have spent their entire academic and sporting life, as the youngest in psychological and emotional development. This means that potentially, they aren't as conducive to information as the rest of the group, and so playing down allows them to have the opposite experience. Other reasons might be based of physiological age not just chronological age. If a player is 13, but has the physiological age of 11, they will struggle to physically cope with the demand. By playing them in their correct physical age, you might see an increase in effectiveness, enjoyment and experience.
It is important to understand the difference between physical maturity and size. Just because a player is small, it does not mean that they are late maturers, they might just be small. A late maturer will not necessary be the smallest but in the key development years of 12-14 they will lack the physical power, strength and co-ordination to perform. During this time, these players could, benefit from playing down an age group to even out the challenge they have in games.
That said players who are just 'small' can at times also benefit from playing down, the environment will allow some removal of the physical challenge and allow them to feel more comfortable with social behaviours in the group. But it is also true that smaller players have to learn to play as smaller players. The only way to experience this is to play as the smaller player, so managing the challenge and varying the challenge is so important.
With that in mind, what do we do in the opposite case. Some players develop at a much earlier and quicker rate, how do we continue to challenge these players. Naturally people develop at different rates for a wide variety of reasons. For those who hit peak heigh velocity early, they may develop a thicker, stronger and more powerful physique than those who have a much younger physiological age. Players who are more developed contain much more power and this allows for them to use this power instead of technique to find success. This isn't beneficial to the players the individual plays, but also allows for the mentioned individual to pick up bad habits in and out of possession. For these players it is important we challenge them in the physiological age they find themselves.
This will naturally mean that players are then challenged to play against players who hold the same physical development as them. This doesn't mean the same height or weight, but the same level of development. This will force our mentioned player to find a new skillset to find success. However, the individual could potentially be complex, with a much younger psychological rate of development. With this in mind we must provide a much more varied learning experience for the player. Exposing them to their own chronological age will allow them to experience a social environment that suits their psychological needs.
In conclusion we can see that playing players in different age groups should not hold stigma for the coach or the player. There are many different reasons to play players across different ages, with little to no performance advantage ( we shouldn't see this for performance outcomes.) We must make decisions based on the individuals we have, every decision we make in relation to players training age, must be in their best interest. If a small under developed individual needs to play two years down to have the best experience and opportunity, then this is the right decision. As long as we are using common sense, mixed with the science, we can't fail the players we work with.