Every year at least one well-intentioned mother or father comes up to me with this query: “I am concerned that my son’s skill level is higher than the league he is in. Even though he is too young to play in the next older league, may he play up? I want to make sure he is getting the competition he needs.” This is a perfectly valid question that addresses a concern that some parents in youth leagues have. They want to make sure their player is getting better and not being held back by players of lesser experience or skill.
Though get asked this question once or twice each season I always have the exact same reply: “Sir/Ma’am, I have watched your son over the last year and he has shown a lot of improvement, but in order to play effectively at the next level he really needs to work on his left hand, right hand, shooting, checking, etc. I suggest he approach this season with the goal of expanding his current skill set. I will keep an eye on him over the first few games and let you know anything else that he needs to work on to have a good time at the next level.”
That brief statement generally refocuses parents on the goal of our youth league which is fun first. However if a parent continues to push for their child to play in an older league I resort to a slightly different response: “Sir/Ma’am, your son has made excellent strides but I cannot see how going into the fifth and sixth grade league a year earlier will benefit him. I would suggest letting him have his day in the sun as a solid player at this level before moving him up to a league where the kids are bigger, faster, and more experienced. I do have a question: is your player not having fun in his current league?” I am never too concerned when a parent wants their child to move up a level because when I talk to the kid he is generally all smiles and just excited to be geared up and playing. I ask that question about fun because if a player is not having a good time then I have a serious problem that needs solving.
I am reminded of a quote by Bill Cosby where he says, ““The essence of childhood, of course, is play, which my friends and I did endlessly on streets that we reluctantly shared with traffic.” Fortunately we do not conduct lacrosse games on Roswell Road but his main point is that childhood should be about play and very few concerns about the world around them. Parents can worry all they want about the traffic but kids just want to get out and throw the ball.
So parents if you feel compelled to request moving your player up a level please do me a favor first. Ask your child if he is having fun. If he is, then do not worry about trying to move him up. The fact that he enjoys playing lacrosse is a fantastic predictor that he will stick with it and improve at his own pace. If he is not having fun then please find Coach Lou, Mary Jo, or I and we will do our best to find out why. Finally, if your child is absolutely dominating the other players in his current league let him have his day in the sun. As a former player I guarantee you that the first time he moves up to an older league every player can do what he can and many of them can do it better.
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