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3/27/18blog post

for or against red-shirting?

Originally posted 7-2-2015

By: Dr. Lora Scott, MD- Sports medicine

Dr. Ramey recently wrote a blog about red-shirting eighth graders. By repeating the eighth grade, parents hope for an extra year of growth and an advantage in high school sports, eventually leading to a sports scholarship.

I asked about this on our national pediatric sports medicine email forum. This practice varies in different parts of the country. However, pediatric sports medicine specialists were unanimous in their opinion that this is a bad idea. Here is a summary of what they had to say:

National trends

  • There are parts of the country where this has been going on for generations and it is very common
  • This practice is illegal in at least one state
  • Regionally, there are pockets of the country where this is done sporadically and in secret by changing schools. Some schools will refuse admission if they suspect this is the reason the child is transferring.
  • There are other parts of the country where no one heard of this before.
  • Nationwide, many parents delay a kindergarten start. Publically, they say it is for emotional maturity for a child with a late birthday. In private, they say it is for a sports advantage. The doctors who hear this do so at their own childrens’ sporting events, not in the office.

the facts in favor of red-shirting the eighth grade year:

  • There is no denying that the bigger kid on the team will get more playing time. More playing time, with elite coaches watching, leads to more opportunities to move up to the next level
  • There are several research studies, across multiple sports in various countries, showing that children who have birthdays during the first 3 months of the sports cut-off year get more scholarships than those born the last 3 months. One study showed that those born the first half of the year got 90% of the college scholarships.

the facts against red-shirting the eighth grade year

Child growth and development is about more than a physical growth spurt. Children ages 11-14 are also facing large developmental leaps psychologically, emotionally, and socially.

  • The average college sports scholarship is about $6000. Sometimes the cost of changing schools and enrolling in another year of sports is more than the scholarship your child might get.
  • An extra year of sports means an extra year of exposing a child to the risk of burnout and injury. It doesn’t matter how good your child is if their heart isn’t in the game. Or if they get injured.
  • Although the older kids get more college scholarships, birthday does not predict performance once they reach the elite level. Late bloomers do just as well once they have their growth spurt.
  • Many adolescents start reasoning and independent thinking at this age. This translates into challenging authority and arguing. What will happen if your child is more developed in this area than other teammates? He or she will be the one most likely to start an argument with the coach or game officials. The end result could be bench time or game ejection. This will get the recruiter’s attention, but not for the right reason.
  • Being the early bloomer or late bloomer in the class has consequences on self-esteem. Girls do better as the late bloomers. Boys do better as the early bloomers.
  • Adolescents who repeat a grade are more likely than their peers to participate in risk-taking behaviors. Examples include alcohol use, drug experimentation, reckless driving, and unprotected sex.
  • This is a difficult age to make and keep friends, even without changing schools or being held back. Separating a child this age from their friends and peers makes this even more difficult.

In summary…

The oldest kids on a sports team have a physical advantage that can open more doors for them for future sports. Intentionally holding a child back in school to take advantage of this puts too much emphasis on the importance of sports, at the expense of social, emotional, and academic development. Even if a child does get a college scholarship, it will probably not cover the cost of the extra year of sports and transferring schools. Overall, the cost is not worth the benefit of this practice.

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Lora Scott, MD

program director sports medicine
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