When Your Soccer Jersey Doesn’t Fit
Playing Up in Youth Soccer
As a young player, I had the privilege and opportunity to be able to “play up”, which means playing with and against older players. This not only helped me gain knowledge and understanding of the game but also had to improve my strategy and skills since I couldn't rely on force and physical power to beat my opponents.
Playing up further than a player’s age group is important because it gives players a challenge. They have the chance and opportunity to develop higher and quicker than they would if they played in their age group.
It is a challenge and accepting it and still approaching it competitively is a great lesson learned on the field and off of it. It takes away fear as a factor and the unknown. For example, if you already know that you're going to be playing against opponents much bigger and stronger than you, then you won’t be surprised and have that factor come into play.
Having to play against players who are also physically better than you means that they probably will be faster than you, too. Therefore when playing against older players, you are also forced to deal with the challenge that of making decisions much quicker than what you're used to. Since you can’t physically beat them with speed, you have to think much faster and hopefully beat them that way.
It’s not only about keeping up either—it’s about being better than the opponent or teammates, as well. Being younger, you have a lot more to prove, therefore, to rise to the occasion is something that will give a young player confident on and off the field.
Playing up makes a player’s soccer mind develop quicker and sooner than they normally would have if playing at their age group. Since soccer is a mental game, it’s important to realize that developing it early enough can increase a player’s chances of taking their game far with the mental foundation they are grounded with when playing up an age group.
Being able to think their way through games is great training to be able to perform at a high level later on. When a player plays their age group, especially if they are big for their age, you can see them often resorting to beating other players only on a physical level, which diminishes their “necessity” to think their way through a situation or a game. This will only hinder them later on when matched with opponents where they have to work their way through a strategy—only knowing that they have relied on their physical abilities up until this point.