Question: My daughter, who will be 16 in 2020, has been invited to play on a 16U and a 18U travel team. On the 16U, she will be a starting infielder, but she will be a utility player on the 18/U team. What are your thoughts?
Answer: There is always a lot of debate on this issue. The 16/U coach will tell you that college coaches are looking at younger players and therefore it's to her benefit to play 16/U. There is some truth to this...but it's only part of the big picture. Yes, Div. I coaches may be looking more at 16/U players hoping to identify top prospects they can reach out to as of Sept. 1 of the players' junior year.
But those same coaches will also be looking at strong 18/U teams to find younger players who are playing at an older, more competitive level. Also, coaches in the 75% group--e.g., Div. II, III and NAIA coaches--tend to scout 18/U more than 16/U because they generally don't get serious about recruiting prospects until those girls are well into, if not through, their junior year and into their senior year.
Also, if a player knows how to conduct a comprehensive and well-directed college search, her own work at putting herself in front of college coaches will be as important as the team she's playing on.
Having said that, it comes down to two things. First of all, how much playing time will your daughter get on each team? Sitting the bench occasionally is fine. But sitting 40% of the time or more can make it harder to improve and refine playing skills. The second factor would be your daughter's maturity level. Can she be happy/content playing as a utility or role player on the older team? Will she get great competition and coaching and have the chance to grow as an athlete? Or will she feel like she's just treading water?
If she's a 2022 grad--e.g., a sophomore this year, I think it's fine for her to play on either team IF all other factors are more or less equal--e.g., caliber of coaching, breadth of competition, good chemistry among players and coaches, etc.