DEAR ATHLETIC SUPPORT: I have a 9-year-old who plays baseball and basketball. Two different coaches have urged me to hold him back a grade. They explained how, if I held him back now, it would be beneficial for his high school career.
I think this idea is ridiculous. The emotional distress it could cause him doesn’t compare to the “what ifs” of his high school sports career. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. — CURIOUS SPORTS MOM
DEAR SPORTS MOM: There’s a term for what you’re talking about; it’s called “redshirting.” And no, I don’t think you should subject your 9-year-old to this sort of crazy.
Redshirting is, however, on the rise across the country. Redshirting is the practice of holding a child back in school for the purpose of gaining an advantage in sports. In other words, let your kid grow a year, and she’ll be the one scoring all the points, hitting home runs, and spiking the volleyball down the younger, smaller girls’ throats.
I’m going to confess something now: I was redshirted.
But it happened in college, which is where the term originates. College. Not elementary school or middle school.
The problem with this new form of “redshirting” is that it occurs during critical developmental years for children: previous to kindergarten or deep in the throes of middle school.
According to Michael McArdle, a Learning Research Specialist, the absolute highest use of energy in the human brain occurs around the age of four (right before kindergarten). So, holding your son back a year to let him grow larger and stronger, will most definitely affect his cognitive development. You cannot put a child’s brain on hold.
Along the same lines, when a child reaches middle school, his brain isn’t buzzing quite as fervently as it was previous to kindergarten, but something else is forming, something equally important — his social life.
Yanking a kid away from all the friends he’s grown up with is dangerous. Nonprofit publisher Ed Week released research recently that said retaining a child at any grade level typically yields little or no positive effects, but retention can lead to academic boredom. It can also hurt their self-esteem.
Are there instances where “redshirting” may be beneficial? Sure.
If a teacher or principal alerts you that your child is falling behind in their classwork, or his maturity isn’t on par with his peers, then you should think deeply about holding your son back. But doing so in order to gain an advantage in sports? Especially at the ripe age of 9 years old?
And it’s truly shocking to me that two different coaches have advised you in this manner. It’s scary. And here’s why:
At the core of every human being is the yearning to belong. To fit in. To be a part of a team. Some of the sweetest memories from my playing career happened in locker rooms or on buses, places away from the glory of the field.
The camaraderie forged through athletics is what makes it special. In many ways, it’s why sports even matter at all — they bring us together.
So I would urge you, with as much conviction as possible, to think long and hard about redshirting your son. In the life of a 9-year-old, there is nothing more important than friendship. Nothing more essential than being a part of the team, his team, the friends he’s grown up with.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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