4 Ways Successful Gyms Use the USASF Age Grid
Welcome to the second in a series of posts designed to educate the cheer parent about the more confusing and frustrating aspects of their athlete’s chosen sport! My goal is to provide clarity by increasing knowledge and understanding of the sport.
This week we are discussing the USASF Age Grid. This is the framework on which we build our teams. Used properly, it is also the first step to ensuring competitive balance in our sport.
Rationale Behind the Age Grid
One way to understand the rationale behind the Age Grid is to compare it against the structure of other youth sports. My oldest son, Cade, played both football and baseball recreationally growing up. When we signed Cade up every year through our local youth association, part of the registration process was providing a birth certificate to prove his age. Based on age, he was automatically placed on an age-appropriate team.
In other youth sports, we understand this concept of placement on age-appropriate teams. We don’t question the logic of our children competing with and against children of the same age. We assume if children are the same age, they will be roughly the same size, speed, experience, and skill level. We assume the competition will be fair.
Difference of the USASF Age Grid
Our USASF Age Grid is built off the same concepts with one major difference. In most other youth sports, our children are placed in an age bracket, meaning there are top and bottom age restrictions for the teams. The USASF Age Grid only mandates bottom age restrictions in Senior and International divisions.
Lack of bottom age restrictions in most divisions produces issues unique to the sport of competitive cheer. To a large degree, the success or failure of a program can be determined by how they use the Age Grid to create competitive advantages for their teams.
Creating Competitive Advantage
Let’s look at 3 ways successful gyms use the USASF Age Grid to their advantage:
Successful gyms understand competing like against like. The most important decision you can make as a program is competing your athletes in the correct age division. Placing athletes in the incorrect age division automatically places them at a competitive disadvantage.
If you have a team of 8-10 year olds, you want them to compete against other teams comprised mainly of 8-10 year olds. When you compete like against like you assume a fairly level playing field. Teams of similar ages should be athletically similar as well.
Successful gyms understand older does not mean better. Many cheer parents have come to the conclusion that being on an older team equals being on a better team. There is a race to be placed on a Senior team as soon as their athlete is 10 years old, or the parent of an 8 year old would prefer to be on a Youth Level 2 team over a Mini Level 2.
I attribute this phenomenon to parents not completely understanding the difference between the Age Grid and Levels. This misunderstanding causes confusion, thinking an older team of the same level will be able to perform harder skills.
Successful gyms understand being old in a division is an advantage. You can create a competitive advantage for your teams simply by competing athletes as old as possible in a division. For example, the oldest you can compete in Youth is 11 years old. A Youth team comprised of 10 and 11 year olds should have a competitive advantage over a team of 8 and 9 year olds.
Parents, patience is a virtue. Allowing your athletes to compete in an age division until they truly age out, helps increase their chance of success.
While age division placement isn’t the only predictor of success, proper use of the Age Grid can create a competitive advantage for a program’s teams. As a parent, understanding and supporting the thought process behind team formation is key.
Question: What aspects of the USASF Age Grid are confusing for you? What are other advantages (or disadvantages) created by proper (or improper) use of the Age Grid?