Advancing to the Next Level

3 Things to Consider Before Moving Your Athlete Up

What 3 things should you consider before moving your athlete up?

The Athlete Sports Progression

The NFL Draft is such an exciting opportunity to watch young men move up to the very highest level of football. These guys that get drafted have proven, through their college careers and all the workouts and combines, that they are ready to make a big step up in competition.

When it comes to the millions of athletes who play youth sports in this country though, we don’t have the luxury of being able to watch hours of game tape, consult with draft analysts, or devote hours upon hours of training to ensure that young athletes are ready for the next step in their athletic journeys.

EVERY young athlete goes through a progression so long as they keep playing sports as they grow older. They all start in the Discovery phase, where they learn the basics of a game and develop a passion for it. From there, an athlete will move into the Development phase, where they’ll continue honing techniques, building their skill sets, and preparing to succeed at the highest levels. And finally, in the Performance phase, athletes will begin to know the game on a deeper level and be able to apply their abilities within strategies and tactics.

While the reality is that there are elements of understanding, skill, and knowledge in each of these phases, the tricky part is knowing when an athlete is ready to move on from one phase to the next.

So often we push an athlete into that elite Performance phase too soon, before he or she is ready for that next level; OR, a young athlete isn’t introduced to that next level soon enough, when he or she is ready to make that step.

Here are three things to consider before deciding whether or not an athlete is ready to move on to the next level:

  1. Understanding of the game - This is the major focus of the Discovery phase. Young athletes need to grasp how the basic foundations of a sport work, both physically and mentally. Part of an athlete coming to understand a game is he or she coming to LOVE the game – without that, why keep going?

  2. Skills of the game – This is the major focus of the Development phase. Now that athletes have basic understanding and love for the game, they can focus on honing and building their skill sets. What is also key here is that an athlete expresses a DESIRE to grow; he or she should be joyfully committed to getting better at the chosen sport!

  3. Knowledge of the game- This is the major focus of the Performance phase. Young athletes should be comprehending more complex game strategies and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of themselves, their teammates, and their opponents. Now that they have strong understanding and skill in the game, young athletes must be able to COMMIT to performing at the highest level of their abilities.

Upward Sports recently conducted a survey of 13,000+ parents of athletes in our leagues. What those parents told us was that their kids left the Discovery phase of sports for one of two reasons: either their child aged out of that phase and there was no other option, or the family decided that they wanted something more competitive.

The first reason is a natural result of a child’s growth and the limited options out there, but the second reason raises the question: What does everyone mean when they say the want better "competition?"

We believe that competition is defined by an equal opportunity to win at every level – levels that are determined by the understanding, skill, and knowledge of each individual athlete in each sport.

The very highest levels of competition aren’t for everyone – think about Michael Jordan! He’s one of the most "competitive" athletes of all time, but he certainly wasn’t good enough at baseball to succeed at the highest level of that sport, and he isn’t good enough at golf to succeed at the highest level of THAT sport.

Finding the right level of competition means identifying where young athletes are at in their understanding, skill, and knowledge of the game, and placing them accordingly. This is pretty straightforward in the Discovery phase, when most everyone is in about the same place in each of those categories. It’s also relatively easy at that highest-level Performance age group, when all athletes at that stage at least have a similar level of understanding and basic skills.

But what about that middle Development phase? It gets SO hard here because all of those attributes are different for all athletes based on their exposure and experience.

Developmental programming is absolutely essential to the sports progression of the vast majority of young athletes. The elite-level travel and AAU teams exist because those top athletes need to find comparable players to play against, but too many of those programs have become known for a lack of player development and more of an interest in individual performance.

That is the reason Upward Sports is starting to offer more Development level programming in addition to our Discovery-level offerings and our Performance-level teams. Finding age-appropriate competition for all athletes will go a long way towards keeping them in their sports longer and helping them grow at a much healthier pace.

The vision of Upward Sports’ 360 Progression is to be able to serve EVERY athlete and his or her family, providing a place to play that is properly competitive. Defining this true "competition" is so crucial because ALL parents will need to make big decisions on when their athletes are ready for that all-important next step.

As we watch the NFL Draft, let’s appreciate how all of these young men have progressed – they developed an understanding of football and fell in love with it; they have honed their skills and expressed a desire to grow; and they have committed to pursuing peak performance at the highest level.