What’s The Rush: Should Your Child Play Up?

Everyone this side of a blue line knows about the prodigious upbringing of Wayne Gretzky. At age 6, the Soon-to-Be-Great One was playing and dominating against 10-year-olds. By the time he was a teenager, he had already scored 1,000 goals.

LeBron James pulled off a similar feat on the hardwood - gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old before going on to be the NBA's number one overall pick and Rookie of the Year.

Most all of us can only dream of our little one being in that sporting stratosphere, but when we do see our 10-year-old is just a tad bigger, faster, and stronger than the competition, one can't help but wonder what if?

But before you jump at the chance to have your child "play up," there are several important emotional and physical factors you should think about.

"Parents should always consider the maturity of their son or daughter when considering playing up," said Chris Donovan, who is entering his 19th season at the helm as the head coach of St. Michael's College Women's team. "Sometimes parents in their zeal to have their son or daughter on a specific team, overlook the child's personality. Are they mature enough, competitive enough, do they adjust well?"

Donovan says while playing up - if you are talented - does bring notoriety, it also brings pressure. How a player adjusts to this pressure is an important consideration in the continued value and assessment of playing up. 

Some parents, like Bethany Shields, have seen the benefits when their kids have moved up a level. The Hershey, Pa., mom said while her son struggled mentally and physically to keep up at first, but "afterwards he said it really helped him to push himself harder and he enjoyed his team, even though he may not have had the ice time the others did. No regrets."

North Syracuse, N.Y. hockey mom Julie Kreb had a different experience this past season when she watched her daughter play up, and sit on the bench.

"She was on another team where she was the queen of face-offs and a very necessary part of the team," Kreb said. "I'm not saying she learned more or less from either team, but I'll tell you which one she liked more. Which one she felt more a part of."

For Michael Farnham, kids playing at the level for their age seems to work best. The Bloomington, Minn., hockey dad's son chose not to move up from a second year 14U player to a High School team. 

"He wanted to move up, but decided it would mean more ice time at the lower level. He ended up being a captain of his team, playing on the power play and penalty kill along with playing first line minutes," Farnham said. 

"I think he made the right choice for his development and confidence, besides getting to play with his friends before moving on to High School."

Johnny Sheppard, from Scarborough, Maine is not entering the race to nowhere. 

"Play with your friends," he said. "That time is short. If you and your child feel the need to be pushed, do private lessons. Good players are just that. They're good. Great players make everyone around them great as well."

Coach Donovan said the key is to talk to your athlete no matter what age and ask them how they perceive themselves and what they want. 

"We're all in a hurry and sometimes lose sight of what's best for our children," he said.

Just remember - what works for one, doesn't necessarily work for all. For every Gretzky or LeBron who shines as a prodigy, there are plenty of kids who don't have to rush. Maybe even kids who get cut from the varsity squad as a high school sophomore.

Happened once to a North Carolina kid named Jordan. Things turned out alright for him.

Now everyone wants to be like Mike.

Christie Casciano Burns is a hockey mom from Syracuse, N.Y., and the author of My Kids Play Hockey: Essential Advice for Every Hockey Parent.




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