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3/27/18blog post

should you "redshirt" your eighth grader?

Originally posted 5-30-2015

After a presentation to a group of parents, I was asked about the practice of “redshirting” eighth graders. This refers to retaining kids in grade school so as to give them a competitive advantage in high school athletics.

I was a bit taken aback by the question. The dad explained that his son was a gifted athlete, but not quite at the elite level. The student was doing well both academically and socially, but his physical development was “only average.”

If an extra year of maturity would help his son achieve outstanding athletic success, argued the dad, what’s the harm? The family had no money to send their child to college. One year of “redshirting” in eighth grade was a small cost to increase the chance of a college scholarship worth as much as $200,000.

Don’t confuse this practice with the dilemma faced by other parents regarding retaining their child due to other concerns. Parents of children born in the summer months confront the issue of when to start kindergarten. Would their child be better off being one of the younger or older kids in their class?

The research is clear on that question. If you have any doubts about your child’s readiness for kindergarten, it’s best to delay their start. This is actually a national trend. The number of kindergarteners older than five has tripled in the past 40 years. It’s also clear that the older kids in class generally have a higher level of academic achievement and social adjustment than younger students.

If your child is struggling in school, is retention helpful in later grades?

Generally, such children should not be retained. The research indicates that having kids repeat a grade doesn’t improve their academic performance. It’s far better to have your child evaluated and receive educational interventions focused on their deficiencies.

In situations of “redshirting,” the only goal is to give a child a competitive physical advantage in athletics. While the dad asked for my opinion, it was clear that he had already made his decision. He spoke about his son’s excitement about the anticipated success he would achieve competing against younger athletes in high school.

Something seems terribly wrong about this practice, but I frankly didn’t know what to say to the dad. There is little research on this practice. How do these kids turn out? Does it really help them obtain college scholarships? Do these kids develop meaningful relationships with younger students in high school?

It’s easy to criticize this practice at so many levels. However, what would you do if you felt that “redshirting” was the best or only way to get a college scholarship for your child?

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Hear from Dr. Scott, sports medicine physician on her thoughts on red-shirting. Read her blog. 

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