Why playing “UP” can actually make your stock go down…

Why playing “UP” can actually make your stock go down…


Everybody wants to skip steps in life, it’s a natural thought and emotion. We think we can get a six pack by doing ab workouts and not eating better. We don’t want to be the grad assistant that’s grinding & learning the coaching business. No…we want the six-figure assistant coaching job right out of college. This happens all the time in grassroots amateur basketball. The skipping of steps by playing “UP” or playing a level higher than your graduating class or age.

Playing “UP” doesn’t always guarantee success. Playing up should only be done if you dominate the kids in your own age group. And when I say dominate, I’m not talkin about scoring 16 points on “Lil Johnny nem.” I’m talking about when you completely and CONSISTENTLY out play and destroy the competition on ALL platforms and levels. Winning one tournament, even if it’s a big tournament, doesn’t count. Remember, CONSISTENCY is key. Especially in summer ball, you must leave no doubt to justify a kid playing up. It’s almost as worse as the whole, “My son can dribble with both hands, so he’s a PG,” statement. There are so many kids who get the wrong advice about playing up in the spring/summer.

So to help you all out, here’s some reasons you SHOULD NOT play up:

  • Because you’re tall
  • Because you played varsity
  • Because you’re more athletic than guys in your class
  • Because you’re ranked high
  • Because the organization is scared it’s going to lose you
  • Because “So and So” is playing up for his team
  • Because your parents think you should

Playing up, sometimes can expose you to not being ready for that level. When you play up, kids are physically better, stronger, more skilled, and experienced. Meaning, it’s going to be a tougher road to hoe. It’s going to be a challenge to maintain or have success when you’re not ready for it. Whether it’s the physical, mental, or skill aspect needs improvement, my suggestion would be to wait. Here’s why. A player’s confidence can get killed, his psyche can become fragile, and it can stunt his developmental growth if he doesn’t perform well on the higher level. Kids get thrown into the fire too early, WAY… too early and then struggle to understand why they aren’t playing well. I think the biggest thing is that people want to play up, but haven’t put the work in behind closed doors to warrant that opportunity. There’s no way you can play a level or two above your age division when your skill level does not meet you there. There’s this silly notion that playing your age group means you aren’t a good enough player or that you’re subpar. Plenty of pros, college All-Americans, and McDonald’s All-Americans have played their age group. Nico Manion (#11, ESPN 2019), Jahvon Quinerly (#26 ESPN, 2018), Josh Green (#8, ESPN 2019), & Naz Reid (#12 ESPN, 2018) just to name a few,  only played ONE year of 17U basketball. They all dominated their age group, and as a result, will have a chance to make money playing basketball.

On the flip side of this equation, one may think, how can you get better if you’re the best player in the gym? Or how can a guard, especially a smaller guard, get used to playing bigger & faster guys? My answer to this is… the work must be done when there’s NO refs, NO crowd, and the bright lights ARE NOT on. The hours in the gym putting in QUALITY work will help you get to where you need to be and dominate at your level. There are obviously many other important factors, such as, confidence and the ability to translate what you learn in training to the game. Once you’ve mastered the art of how to work, and how to get better, and consistently perform at a high level against your age group, then you have earned the right to play against bigger, stronger, & faster guys. If the work has been put in, & you’re confident, then you should be able to outplay the competition in your class. This goes for kids in your age group locally, nationally, and even on the moon. When you play local tournaments, it should be clear, when you play state wide comp, it should be clear, at AAU Nationals, if you’re ready to play up it will be clear… This goes for teams as well, prime example is a local non-shoe team, Cooz Elite, here in Houston. They had success winning tournaments across Texas & playing well in national events in Vegas during the July NCAA Live period, even winning big games at the Great American Shootout, which is also a NCAA certified Live Period event. Their director, PJ Couisnard, a former Wichita State Shocker, said, “If we would have played 17U, we wouldn’t have won any tournaments… period. We would have struggled because we weren’t ready. We played well playing 16U and didn’t get the coverage we should have, just imagine what would have happened if we would have played 17U & lost!” Having a good team that wins some games or even a tournament or two doesn’t mean you’re ready to play a level up… Consistent dominance at a certain level, even as a group, should be the playing up standard.

And finally, STOP reclassifying your kid down a grade & then scream that he should be playing up… Why reclassify your kid down a year, to have him play in his original class anyway… ?? I’m sorry I’m on my soapbox, but I just want kids to play where they can have success, & to help parents understand how college coaches, & evaluators think and look at things. It’s important that people are informed. Playing up doesn’t equate success and playing your age group doesn’t mean failure.

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