“Older youth athletes playing down against younger players has become an epidemic and it is not what we want to be teaching our kids.”
Youth sports are a fine way for children to keep active. Participants learn the importance of being healthy and fit, while also building camaraderie with fellow players and understanding the value of sportsmanship and fair play.
In certain cases, parents can elect for their child to “play up,” which means to play at a higher level or age group than they normally would. This is done to give the player more of a challenge if they are much better than their similarly aged peers. While there is still a discussion to be made about whether or not this is a benefit to the child, the fact remains that it is within the rules of most youth sports leagues.
The same cannot be said of the inverse of “playing up,” however. “Playing down” is when a child from a higher age group plays in a lower one, often through falsifying their player documentation. Not only is this against the rules in most youth sports leagues, it is also unfair to the other players in the league. On the one hand, the teammates of the player who circumvented the rules can feel the ill effects of the this decision, as they might receive less playing time due to the dominance of their older, more skilled peer. On the other hand, members of opposing teams can be adversely affected if they are forced to play an opponent they normally would not have to.
Fortunately, some safeguards are in place to prevent players from attempting to hoodwink the rules by “playing down.”
One such safeguard exists in the form of National Sports ID, a website that keeps a digital record of the ages of players on teams that sign up, ensuring that only players of a correct age are playing in a game. This service has already partnered with Zero Gravity Basketball, a group that provides tournaments and games for children to play in. Any players who attempt to circumvent the system will be categorized as cheaters, and National Sports ID will notify the athlete’s school and push to have them labeled as such on their transcripts.
For more information about National Sports ID, you can go to: Frequently Asked Questions.
The Amateur Athletic Union or AAU also has some standard age requirements that many other organizations follow around the country. You can view those eligibility requirement here: AAU Eligibility Rules
While the choice on whether to have the child “play down” is ultimately the parents’ and coaches’, one would hope that the presence of safeguards against such cheating would deter such actions and keep youth sports the way they are supposed to be: fair and competitive.