Thursday, March 9, 2017

And Another Thing: There's No Reason to Play Up

As should be clear by now if you've been reading me for awhile, my son plays hockey. He just wrapped up his second year of Mites. Long ago, a coworker told me that if we ever had a chance to play spring hockey, to do it. Cheap youth hockey and enough ice time to satisfy Ryan Suter.

Last year, when the e-mail went out, I replied 30 seconds later that we were in. My son's agent wanted to go slow and think about it, but he overruled her, and we signed up. And it was awesome. He fit in with his team and was one of the leaders in scoring by my unofficial tally. What I found out after all the games were done is that he was one of three 1st years on that team.

This year, he was arguably the best player on his team. Our association splits Mites (8U) level kids into three teams, with preference to match kids by their school. Since players aren't rated by skill, this can lead to some teams being better than others. So, despite being the best player on his team, he was on arguably the worst team.

This year, nobody stepped up to get a spring league team together, so I did it. At the same time, one of the Squirts coaches wanted to get a second Squirts (10U) team together and invited mites to join.

This led to an interesting situation. We had some kids who were expressing interest in both teams. Eventually, 3 kids wanted to play up on the Squirts. I would argue that there are two Mites that could handle playing 10U hockey, and both are on the Mites spring league team. (Caveat: I don't know the 3 kids playing up this spring very well, so I won't comment on their skill level.)

So where's the line? One of the youth sports associations in my area (HGRA - St Paul) famously will tell any parent "Joe Mauer didn't play up, your kid won't either." I largely agree with this logic and I think there are very few exceptions:

  • Your kid is head and shoulders above all the other kids at his or her level.
  • You have two kids close in age and you want them to stay together. 

That's about it. And even in the first case, should you?

Look. Your kid is not Wayne Gretzky. Sorry to break it to you. And hell, even if he was, I'd argue it's better for them to play at their level. Look at John Tavares. If his leagues and the NHL had let him get drafted when he wanted to be, he'd have been in the Steven Stamkos draft, similar to the Connor McDavid / Jack Eichel draft. Instead, he was drafted in 2009, first overall. While 11 or 12 years down the road Stamkos is arguably the better player, at the time it probably worked in Tavares' favor. Whatever happened at the time, he's the same player that he'd always have been, but he's not in Stamkos' shadow the way Eichel is in McDavid's. 

Could my kid play up in a spring league that focuses on fun rather than competition? Sure. But at the ages that I'm working with, developing high end skill isn't in the kids' best interests. Even USA Hockey advocates that kids have fun and cross train with other sports - soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics (yes, you read correctly) - at this level. Then, as kids get older, their bodies begin to develop and get stronger, so you run a safety risk when playing kids at disparate sizes.

Even if my kid had elite skill and size, I'd still play him at his recommended level. Why? Because children - yes, we're still talking about children - should be having fun. When my kid is a teenager and if he wants to develop his game and try to be an elite talent, then we'll decide how to proceed at that time. 

Until then, he's a kid. I'll let him be one.