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Should You Play Down in Youth Baseball?

  • “Playing up” in youth baseball refers to assigning a player to an older division, typically in recreational leagues based on school grades. However, this choice may restrict resources and set the player’s level permanently for their youth baseball career within that league
  • “Playing down” involves placing a player in a younger division, typically within travel or tournament teams, to maximize their development and competitiveness. Yet, this option can inadvertently limit opportunities for the genuinely younger players in that division
  • This is post is part of an nine-article series covering every aspect of a baseball tryout. If you arrived at this page via search, I highly recommend that you first read my post, Baseball Tryout – Complete Reference Guide

As someone who have been involved with a local youth baseball league for over a decade, I’ve seen trends come and go.

I’ve seen star players rise and fall. But one constant, as integral to the sport as the stitches on a ball, is the strategy parents and coaches use to shape a young player’s career: the choice of “playing up” or “playing down”.

What Does It Mean “Playing Up” in Baseball

When I say “playing up,” I’m referring to a young athlete taking the field with older competitors. This usually happens in recreational baseball, as the divisions are set by school grades, not by the actual age of the players.

For those born in the early summer, this could mean being grouped in a division younger than they are. Their parents, keen to let them play with their school friends, might request the league to move them up.

However, this maneuver isn’t without its challenges.

Your local league might be unable to fulfill this request due to limited resources or an already scarce younger division.

Moreover, if your young player is moved up, they’re likely to stay at that level for their entire youth baseball career with that particular rec league.

It’s not a bad thing per se, just something worth remembering.

What Does It Mean “Playing Down” in Baseball

On the flip side, “playing down” is a strategy more applicable in travel or tournament teams. In this case, it’s the players whose birth month coincides with the cutoff date – often April 30th in most national youth baseball leagues – who are eligible to play down.

Making this decision requires some reflection, looking closely at your child’s skill level, physical attributes, athleticism, and mental maturity.

You should also take into account the team’s composition.

Are there multiple travel teams at your child’s age level? Are they performing above average? Is it likely that your child would secure a spot on a competitive team?

Even the makeup of younger teams should be considered. Could your child secure a place on a competitive team at a lower age level?


Ideally, you want your kid on a team where they’re neither the weakest link nor the star player.

This balance creates the best learning environment, allowing for maximum development in both baseball skills and IQ. Playing down makes the most sense if your child is average or below average when compared with their peers but can hold their own on a competitive team at a younger level.

The downside?

By playing your child down, you might be taking away roster spots from younger players who can’t benefit from the same strategy.

It’s a give and take, a push and pull. Just another part of the intricate dance that is youth baseball, a dance I’ve been watching unfold and reporting on for thirty years.

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