Friday, November 14, 2008
Moving your child up a level – does it help or hurt?
By CEAN BURGESON (For California Rubber magazine)
It’s a question heard each fall at hockey rinks: “Should we move Billy up a level this year?”
Many parents contemplate moving their child up early in order to “give him more of a challenge.” The levels of USA Hockey are bracketed by age in such a way that players of similar skills will usually play together, but no matter what, there will always be players who excel more than others. I agree that moving a player up will allow him to play with and against better players who will force him to work harder and improve his skills, but he’d do that by moving up at the proper time anyway.
Some parents fear that their child may be bored at their current level. As a coach, I can tell you that most young hockey players aren’t bored with being able to skate around the other players and score time and again. Why not let your child be a star for a year or two? As his career progresses he may not have another 70-goal season again. Let him enjoy it while he can.
It’s also important to question the emotional readiness of the athlete. I’ve seen plenty of good players who excel at skating, passing, and shooting but don’t have the maturity to play at the next level yet. The damage that could be done to a player’s confidence by putting him in a more demanding playing environment before he’s ready could follow him for the rest of his playing career.
Also important to this discussion is the fairness factor. If a star player abandons his team, what effect will that have? Will it give them a weaker bench? Will the team still be able to field enough players to be competitive? How will his former teammates and their parents feel about him leaving?
By moving a child up early in a travel program, a properly aged child might have to be cut in order to make room. At a rink without a house team to fall back on this could force a child out of hockey completely. All things considered, the goal of any good youth hockey program should be to encourage participation from everyone regardless of his or her skill level. Leave no hockey player behind, so to speak.
With all of these factors taken into consideration, youth hockey players are usually better off playing with their same-aged teammates.
Cean Burgeson is a hockey writer, player, and has been a youth coach in Michigan and California.