Redshirting Trend: Sports Parents Hold Kids Back in School to Gain Athletic Advantage

ESPN’s Outside the Lines invited coaches, athletic counselors and other experts onto the show to discuss the practice of redshirting children for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage in athletics. According to the OTL hosts, redshirting children at the elementary school level is a “growing phenomenon,” as it’s becoming more common for coaches and parents to push for holding children back in school a year to gain a physical advantage. These adults hope this will make the promising young athlete stand out more prominently among their peers.

The question is, are redshirted children this young being manipulated or otherwise pushed into something for reasons they are probably not yet able to comprehend? Looking at the motivation behind the actions of these coaches and parents is key to understanding what role the adults play in this controversial practice. The greatest harm we can inflict on our children, other than ignoring them or abusing them, is to manipulate them in order to achieve our goals for them.

If we are completely honest with ourselves about our motivation, and if we have a holistic approach to their overall well-being and development (psychological, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual) we would not make decisions that are solely based on increasing the odds of athletic advantage.

This reminds me of the father who at every meal takes the fork out of his two year old son’s right hand and puts it in his left hand because he knows lefty pitchers get drafted higher and paid more in professional baseball. True story! What this father is failing to consider is the possibility that his son was really destined to be the world’s greatest shortstop. There are no left-handed shortstops in MLB.

In general, decisions made from a place of fear are never as good as decisions made from a place of faith – faith in our children’s ability to learn and grow, struggle and adapt. Redshirting a child solely for athletic reasons is based on a fear – a fear that without this manipulation the child will not become what he or she is meant to be in our eyes. What an interestingly presumptuous point of view!

Our children do not need the added pressure of “public expectation” placed on them by manipulating their environment for the expressed purpose of making their success (in our eyes) more likely. The unintended consequence of this message is that sports, and a child’s performance in it, is the center of the universe. All parents should ask themselves, “Is that really the perspective we want our children to have as their world view?” –David Benzel

About the author

david-benzel-founder-growing-champions-for-life
David Benzel
Sport Family Coach at

Founder of Growing Champions for Life, David helps sports parents and coaches incorporate positivity and persistence into their communication with the young athletes who count on their encouragement and guidance. An eight-time national water skiing champion, five-time national record holder in water ski jumping, former World Championship U.S. Water Ski Team coach, and proud professional sports parent, he understands first-hand the challenges and rewards of competition. His extensive experience as a corporate leadership coach for Nextel, Sprint, Allstate, Balfour Beatty, The Villages and other companies provides David with unique insight into the skills needed to excel in sports, business and life. He brings an athlete's discipline, a coach's inspiration, and a parent's practical experience to his mission to grow not just champion young athletes, but holistically well-rounded individuals equipped for lifelong excellence.

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