Calling foul on ‘redshirting’

'Redshirting' is becoming more common as parents take the opportunity to score a competitve edge. Photo via Freddy Hinojosa.

For those unfamiliar with the term “redshirting,” it’s the act of holding a child back from Kindergarten in order to give them an academic or sports advantage. It gives the child a full year advantage on size and maturity over their peers. For the academic advantage, the thought is that giving them a year to mature and learn more fundamentals will give them a leg up in the classroom. For the sports-minded parent, redshirting gives the child a potential size and strength advantage over other kids.

But I call foul.

I think redshirting is cheating, sends a bad message to the child and is un-sportsmanlike.

I spoke to one parent recently, whose son plays basketball but is quite small for his age. It’s unlikely he’ll go on to high school level ball because of his size. His mother defended his stature as being one of the youngest in the class as he just made the district’s cut off. Out of curiosity, I asked her if they considered holding him back, given that the kid plays 3 different sports. She said they were “too stupid to think of that.”


I guess if I’m honest with myself, I was “too stupid” to think of that as well. I just wanted to get my son, who also came in just under the cut-off, into school as soon as possible. I was really quite over him being home by the time kindergarten came around and looked forward to getting him out of my house.

The term “redshirting” comes from a long used college strategy. It’s a way to spread out a 4 year University study to the 5-year program, allowing athletes to sit out a season of practice, either for injury or in order to acquire further athletic skills, lengthening their time of eligibility. When these students practice with eligible teammates, they wear red shirts to distinguish them from the active players.

The problem as I see it, redshirting in kindergarten, in theory, gives children an unfair advantage. The same argument for redshirting as a matter of maturity is the same argument against it. One year does make a big difference. That’s the problem. The curriculum is geared towards a child of a certain age, so when you have these kids who are a full year older and breezing through their coursework, the child who may struggle is being unfairly compared to kids that aren’t even their age. Furthermore, it teaches kids that a strategic maneuver around the system gives them an advantage and that failure is not an option.

What is the worst thing that could happen to a child who is considered a little immature? They get held back? So what? The sun will still rise and fall, it may not be on your child, but struggles and even failures are a part of life. If they wind up having to repeat a grade, so be it. They’ll live.

For children in middle school, the span of ages is so wide, there are kids reaching puberty while other kids in the same grades are years from it. Those “immature” kids eventually catch up and now they’re older when a year makes an even bigger difference.

And it’s not just me bitching. Research, such as the 2000 Graue-DiPerna UW-Madison study, shows that children who are Kindergarten delayed by parental choice (incidentally of whom are mostly boys) actually receive more special education intervention and behavioral intervention than their non-redshirted peers. Of the redshirted children that aren’t in need of academic or behavioral intervention, studies show at 3rd grade that the majority of redshirted kids are not better off academically, scoring a median average with the non-redshirted kids.

In sports, your child may have a false advantage because they’re essentially playing down and not up. I mean really, how impressive is it if your child has reached puberty and is 3 feet taller than the younger kids in his grade and he can pass over the younger one’s head? The younger and possibly smaller kid is gaining skills by playing harder and working harder to compete with older kids, while the older child remains stagnant.

If all kids are red-shirted, then what? You wait until your kid is 7, 8 or 9 to start Kindergarten?

Just send your kid to school already and deal. The apron strings have to be cut at some point. Don’t make your insecurities your kid’s insecurities, too. There are cut-offs for a reason.

  • doetwin

    I don’t see why it matters what other parents do with their children. If you disagree with redshirting, then a solution for you is simple. Don’t do it. And if you think other parents redshirting negatively affects your child, then guess what? You have that very same option, and if you didn’t take advantage of it, you still have the option of holding them back. So really, you have no reason to complain if other parents choose to redshirt.