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What are your thoughts on "playing up"?

Is it beneficial to have an advanced player play up at the next age group?

Is it better to find him a more advanced league of the same age such as travel baseball as opposed to playing up?

If you have played up, what happened? Was it beneficial? What if the player struggles? How did the player handle this from a social perspective?

Any insights or experiences are appreciated.  Thanks.

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Bill, a great topic to hit on at this time of the year. The local rec programs for our area are Little League. They are great programs for kids that are in the early stages of development or for kids that just want to get outside and have fun. We have a lot of tournament ball in our area with both AAU and USSSA, so there are plenty of options for playing baseball here. We also have 18 middle schools with baseball teams and 18 high schools with both JV and Varsity. Gee, I wonder why we typically have 3 state schools ranked in the top 15 every year in college ball. Hmm.

All of this being said, back to your question. With the amount of ball available in our area what I find, more often than not, is that the players that make our middle school teams and high school teams are coming out of tournament ball and most have played up in age bracket. Rec ball only plays 12 - 18 games per season, so the experience level does not develop quickly. With tournament ball the players are typically playing 8 games per month for 10 months of the year. With a typical tournament team roster at 10 or 11 players everyone is playing in every game. When players play up they are facing the level of competition that they will face playing school ball and elite level tournament ball. Our school ball is very competitive so facing better competition is a huge plus for players. Most of our school ball players play up 1-2 years. For example, our 6th grade group (ages 11-12) are playing 13 & U this Fall to get them on a 60/90 field. They will continue to play 13s in the Spring and move to 14s in the Summer. During the Fall next year as 7th graders they will play strictly 14s and in 3 or 4  wood bat tournaments. Our JV guys (14-16) and Varsity will play 18 & U travel ball from 9th - 12th grades. 

The players enjoy the challenge, but it all depends on the approach of the coaching staff. I have seen coaches that are all about winning and players hate moving up because they don't win as often or by as large a margin. Coaches that work with their players to develop skills and talk players up and applaud success will have no problems with kids moving up. Players will struggle some at first, but again they take the challenge and work hard to be able to compete. After all, when they get to the high school they will face players older than them until they become seniors, so why not do it early on and be prepared?

I feel like it can be good even if he's not the key player on that new team. For example, if the kid is in one league dominating as the best player, he's probably seeing alot more playing time than others. Well on that new team it would be harder for him to go out there and dominate like he did in the lower league. Therefore, he won't be seeing as much playing time which I feel like can teach kids a lot. I'll be the first to admit after only playing 2 seasons and being 15 years old, I do sit the bench a lot. I'm not really on the same skill level as everybody else. I'm getting there, but not quite yet. But I've seen many GOOD players play a wh
Whole game every game of the season. Well those kids don't get to see what it's like to sit the bench a lot too. So I think it can teach him a lot about not always being the best
I believe playing up is good playing at a higher level is one of the easiest ways to get better in fields of the game. I would also play in the league that your suppose to play in so that you can see the difference in the level of play.

It seems that everyone is in agreement that players should only play up if it doesn't take away ABs, field time, or experience.  On travel teams, this can be easily gauged.  But in local ball or Little League, not so much.  The problems are multiple. 

Firstly, who gets to play up is often political and based on highly subjective measurements made by inexperienced adults or those looking through tinted lenses.

Secondly, in spring season community ball, all players are required a minimum amount of playing time regardless of skill.  This means those players moving up take ABs and experience away from the "in-age" kids.  The compensation for this is expanded rosters and/or more teams, further diluting the pool.  The only way to have more teams is to bring up more kids.  I've seen the majors division in my local league turn into an instructional league because of the huge influx of younger players.  Everyone feels good about how well the 10 and 11 year olds are competing, but they're really not if you're only lowering the standard to their level.  And what about the older players?  Don't they deserve the opportunity to play at a challenging level?  Aren't we now retarding their development?

In a fully competitive environment like travel or club ball, whether or not a player should stay with an older team works itself out naturally for the most part.  For in-house leagues, it becomes a slippery slope that diminishes the level of play at all levels.  The short coming is glaring year over year.

So in principle; yes, of course it depends on whether or not the player will truly play at the higher level.  But, this needs to be reserved for only those players that are beyond dominant within their age group.  They shouldn't just be able to compete at a higher level.  They should be capable of standing out. Otherwise, it's just an insidious lowering of play at all levels.  Because, if the primary measure is the ability to compete, it's very tough to draw the line that determines who moves up and who doesn't.

I had 6 players move on to majors this year after dominating at the AAA level last year.  They are all within their age-group.  ALL of their parents complained this year that the level of play in Majors was below what it was in AAA last year.  My son dominated last year, but had to work hard to do so.  This year, he got lazy, because he could afford to.  Ironic isn't it?

I will keep this short.... I think!

In youth ball, if the kid is truly an elite player (a lot of people struggle with "elite,") then by all means he should play up... if he wants to. That's the kicker. Some kids would rather play with their friends, and that's fine. I don't think any long term damage will be done, and remember, this is a game for kids to have fun. We aren't training MLB All-Stars.

In high school ball, I phrase it to my players this way "we are inviting you try-out with the varsity team, if you can win a starting spot, we will keep you with us. If you cannot, you will play with your age group so you can play every day, get consistent at bats, and play the field on a regular basis."

We have some kids make it, some don't, but I think the process is respectful and keeps the player's development in mind.

Love this.

I have always gone by the old saying that it is better to be an average player on a very good team than a superstar on a weak team. Playing up allows a player to become comfortable with the faster pace, increased strategy and overall level of competition they will face as they move on towards playing school ball and beyond. Our state is very competitive when it comes to playing ball but our local rec programs are not much more than babysitting services. Being a part of a good team also teaches players the concept of being responsible. Show up for practices, work hard and play. Our rec leagues have rules in place stating that all players that show for games must play a certain amount of time. If a kid shows up in the later stages of a game, they still have to play. What does that teach?

my kid has played up since he was 7.  he still plays up at 13.  my thought is play up if he is in the top 25-30 percent of the age he is playing up with.  so like mine he's 13,  i believe he is in the top 10percent of 14 yo's at the top level ( majors).  if i thought he was below the top 30 percent or so i would play him at his own age.  Don't play them up if they are in the bottom half of the age they play up to.  if they are in the top of the age they play up to then playing their own age will not help them 

thats my 2 cents

Bill :

I don't have any experience with younger travel teams & rec. leagues. My experience is with 15 - 18 yr. old players both in high school & sandlot. The common thread in the comments was playing time. No one ever improved by not playing so I feel that's a major consideration. When I was coaching at the HS level we would bring players up only if we felt that they could start. It's wasn't too hard to spot those kids. They stood head & shoulders above the rest. Just the way that they went about their business told me that they belonged at the higher level. That's all the opinion that I can give based on my experience but I'd like to recommend a book called "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. I read it awhile back but I remember that he devotes a whole chapter, or a good part of one, to this question. It's only one person's view but I think that he includes research. I found the entire book to be extremely interesting. If I remember, the theme is why some people succeed and others don't. You can probably find it at the library and I know that you can get it on Amazon. He gives you a lot to think about plus plenty of discussion material.

The above topic has brought out some very interesting comments.

From my own experience as a 17 year old Legion player in Kansas City who was fortunate enough to have the ability to play up two seasons in the summer college Ban-Johnson league comprised of players 21 and under, D-1, D-2 etc my bottom line of thinking is, if a player is capable of playing up and has the ability to hold his own let him play, more power to him, never play up and be a bench sitter. play and enjoy, Always strive for self improvement. never allow winning or losing take your fun and enjoyment out of your game. I had the opportunity to play and practice 2 times per week per. both teams, 4 games and 4 practice sessions per week kept me pretty busy and also afforded me the opportunity to have been fortunate enough to have been able to play professional ball.

I will also point out that those practice sessions brought out my abilities and improved my individual skills more so than all of the games put together but as we all realize to get the game fundamentals and skills in one needs game play action also.

 All game play minus adequate practice time, makes for inadequate player improvement and inferior game play, I learned this lesson after I left all of the hours I spent on the ball field to just playing every day so I emphatically encourage all parents and coaches to get their players out there on the practice field, not indoors , one cannot successfully work on their game position skills indoors, get on the dirt, play catch, play pepper, throw the ball around the horn many times, throw in from the outfield, get those elbows up to app. shoulder height when throwing, no pushing the ball when throwing, under hand/self toss and hit many balls for timing and hand eye coordination, field many balls and always remember, # 1. the game of baseball is a hustlers game played on the balls of your feet and in front of your eyes, catching, releasing the ball when throwing, bunting, hitting the ball, fielding the ball. # 2. When the ball is in the pitchers hand while on the mound every player behind him is a potential fielder, # 3. When the ball is put into play all players between those white lines have a place to go to, to get to immediately whether it may be to make a play or to back up whoever is making the play.

Guess I became carried away with words there.

Great Baseball-N to all

Don Ervin

Playing up in youth baseball is no different than pro ball; it is a balancing act between developing confidence and challenging the player to improve.  Simple.  Baseball is ALL mental and which serves ... here's an important word ... the player's DEVELOPMENT at a given time dictates what takes place.

Sitting on the bench at any level ... believe it or not ... is a skill in and of itself involving patterns of thought and behavior and even muscle memory and when you do it a lot ... you get better at it; better at sitting that is ... NOT better at playing baseball.  Period.  This should be a decision based upon an accurate assessment of a player's needs at a particular moment in time; not a father's desire to "brag" to his buddies around the water cooler.

Also ... all of this nonsense; up / down is NOT the point for the development of young players. Please stop the madness. Way way way too much emphasis on games rather than skill development.  Way too MANY games ... tournaments.  I feel like Crash Davis yelling at Nuke LaLoosh; "You don't need a ... can't remember if it was a blaupunkt ... or a Porsche ... you need a curveball."

These kids don't need to play 60 games and go to 10 tournaments in a 90 day summer vacation, they need CORRECT reps; 200 swings a day / 100 ground balls / proper throwing mechanics.  They need to learn how to THINK; prepare / perform / adjust.  They need to learn how to use failures as an opportunity to adjust and succeed. 

They need to have fun and learn the FUN of confronting a challenge and mastering a skill ... IF they want to do it in baseball ... GREAT. If they want to take what they learn in baseball and apply it to another endeavor well ... that's great too.  

All the industry is doing at the moment is lining the pockets of these academies and tournament and showcase producers.  The industry is NOT producing better baseball players. 


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