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The Peril of Playing Up

If you had asked me back in December what the biggest risk of having Simon play soccer and tennis with older kids would be, my answer would have focused on physical risk. What if all the older kids are better than Simon? What if he gets crushed on the soccer pitch? My mom, on the other hand, was more focused on the social aspect. What if the older kids don’t socialize with Simon? What if he ends up left out and isolated?

Nearly three months later, I have my answer. My mom was right to be concerned about the social aspect, but she got the script flipped. At Mockingbird and at the Louisville Tennis Club, Simon has held his own as a player and made friends among teammates and fellow players. The problem is that some of these friends are ready to move on to higher divisions based on their age or skill, and that is making Simon (and them) a little sad.

Two of his soccer teammates have approached me about the next session, as they’d like to play together again. As would I; these are good kids. But Simon will be playing spring and fall soccer outside, and by the time we move back indoors in November, he will be 8 and his best soccer friends will be 10 and have aged out of his division. So he’ll have to start all over in the friends division. I’m sure there are some great 8-year-olds out there, but somehow Simon only befriended the 9-year-olds.

On the tennis court, Simon’s best friend is Salil, who is also 9. They are well matched when it comes to personality, interests, and ability. However, as you would expect, Salil is taller and more powerful than Simon on the court. Today the boys were asking about the next session of tennis, and Salil was begging his dad to stay in Simon’s group. If Simon returns right away (we might take a break for a few months), I assume he’d need to stay in the age 9-10 advanced beginner clinic. Salil, meanwhile, is probably ready for the intermediate/advanced clinic for the same age group.

Salil’s dad and I both recognize that the boys are probably going to be split up, but the boys themselves were highly resistant. I have to confess that as Salil was pushing the issue with his father, a selfish part of me was hoping he’d not be ready and/or his dad would give in. After every clinic these days, the two of them rush off the courts, find a chair to share in the viewing room, and have fun watching the high schoolers  that play after them. As I watch them together—Simon in the chair and Salil perched on the armrest—I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that Simon has befriended such an energetic, friendly, and sweet boy.

But you can’t coach height or strength, and while Simon is tall*, coordinated, and focused for his age, he is still 7. He can’t go play soccer with the 10-year-olds, and he’s probably not ready to be in an advanced tennis group with 9- and 10-year-olds, either. Meanwhile, Salil’s dad is absolutely right to move Salil up if the coaches say he’s ready. I’d do the same in his place.

Still, it’s a little sad. I wonder if it’s also inevitable. I always had friends who were older than me, and that meant I spent a lot of time in my childhood saying goodbye and starting over as my friends moved on to new schools. I think Matt was much the same, so it’s no surprise that Simon, too, gravitates to older children. That’s all fine and dandy until they move on to middle school, high school, and college, at which time it can get a little lonely.

There’s really nothing to be done here. I have no doubt that moving Simon up was the right thing; he was ready for the 60′ tennis court and the larger soccer field. So there’s no regret here. Just the observation and slight sadness that moves such as this involve inevitable trade-offs, and that the trade-off in these cases appears to be early separation from sports friends.

*We finally had his 7-year exam two weeks ago. At 52.5 inches, Simon is taller than the average 8-year-old and is only a half inch off the average for 9. I suspect that he’s going to follow Matt’s pattern and reach his full adult height earlier than average. If he doesn’t, he’s on track to top 6 feet, which seems unlikely given my own stature.

2 Responses to “The Peril of Playing Up”

  1. Amanda says:

    Could you arrange to have Simon and Salil play a friendly game outside of formal tennis class? Like a playdate for tennis? My brother never really took lessons, he just played at the park with his buddies.

  2. Jessica says:

    That’s the plan. I’m going to join a pool and tennis club for the summer, and I’m hoping to arrange some tennis play-dates there. We live near some good public courts, too. I just need to find more kids who play; it’s not super popular these days.

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