Parents Are Redshirting Their Children to Gain an Athletic Advantage

In an attempt to gain an athletic advantage, some parents are redshirting their children, requiring them to retake a year of middle school or high school to become great athletes. Here’s what experts have to say about this controversial practice.

Jenna Knapp of Des Moines, Iowa, was astonished to see numerous players larger than her 12-year-old son during an interstate Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball tournament in Indianapolis. She was surprised to see that some of the players were bigger than her son. And not by a small margin. “There was a significant difference,” Knapp recalls. Wondering as to why, Knapp began conversing with the other parents. “At that point, it was brought to my knowledge that reclassifying your child is becoming rather popular,” she explains.

Reclassing or reclassifying is when a child is held back a year in high school or middle school so that they can have an advantage in sports because they are taller, bigger, or smarter than their peers. This option is commonly referred to as keeping your child back in school, and it can be implemented as early as preschool or kindergarten. It is also performed for non-athletic reasons, such as when a child is not emotionally prepared for school.

The practice of holding children back to provide them additional time to develop cognitively and socially is not new. Redshirting in kindergarten has been researched for decades, and children who are a bit older than usual tend to outperform their younger counterparts academically and athletically.

The phrase redshirting kindergarten is derived from the well-known, coach-sanctioned practice of delaying a student’s official participation on a team to allow the athlete to physically mature.) But, it is more problematic when young children without significant academic or social obstacles repeat grades solely to get an advantage in sports.

In reclassification, parents typically take the initiative to keep their children back. Schools and districts may have varying policies on whether officials must approve a student’s request to repeat a grade. But even if a principal has the right of refusal and does not permit reclassification, parents who are determined can simply switch schools. Indeed, some have done so.

How Often is Reclassifying?

Kevin Bruce Blackistone, a sports journalist and frequent ESPN contributor, will not use the term “widespread” to describe the trend, although he concedes that its usage in young sports has recently increased. Blackistone, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill Faculty of Journalism, explains, “It’s become increasingly popular over the past five, six, seven years.”

This growth is largely due to the desire of young players to boost their chances of gaining positions on elite college teams and getting substantial athletic scholarships. The media exposure that comes with playing for prestigious collegiate teams, which may lead to lucrative professional careers, may also be contributing to this trend.

And some high school coaches have observed reclassification in all sports. “This is a larger problem and discourse than a single sport. This involves parents asking, “What method can I employ to give my child the greatest potential advantage?” “Frantz Pierre-Louis, the father of two Division I basketball players, a former professional basketball player, and the basketball coach of tens of thousands of children in New Jersey, says: (some have gone on to play for the NBA).

Reclassification is quite known to Kevin Armstrong, Ed.D., principal of DuPont Hadley Middle School in Old Hickory, Tennessee, a football-centric region of the county. In his 25 years of experience, Dr. Armstrong thinks that approximately ten male pupils were reclassified between seventh and eighth grade.

In other regions of the country, it is less prevalent. For instance, David Wick, the president of National Association of Elementary School Principals and a junior high school administrator in Columbia Falls, Montana, has limited personal experience with it. Throughout the 23 years, he has served as principal, there have only been two cases in his own rural district.

Are There Benefits to Reclassifying?

There is little to no study on the effects of reclassification, partly because parents and schools are unwilling to draw attention to this choice.

According to Patricia Burris-Warmoth, M.D., director of adolescent medicine at Flushing Hospital Medical Center in New York City, there are certain physical benefits. For instance, a guy who reclassifies in eighth grade would improve his likelihood of having greater muscle mass and upper-body strength than his peers.

Others, such as Wick, Dr. Armstrong, Pierre-Louis, and Blackistone, who have tracked the trajectories of reclassified students, concur that it has led some students to a professional career or a college scholarship.

Yet, specialists are uncertain as to how this impacts youngsters psychologically. Dr. Armstrong is concerned about the repercussions of holding back children, sometimes as early as 11 years old. Dr. Armstrong states, “I believe it screws with the youngsters’ heads.” He is concerned that the same issues that beset students who are maintained for academic reasons will arise with reclassification. “That is equivalent to a child stating, “I received all F’s and repeated a grade.” Now I am among a bunch of younger children.'”

In the absence of study, psychologists lack clear information regarding reclassification’s social and emotional effects. Gila Elbaum, a school psychologist in Bergen County, New Jersey, says parents should consider potential social repercussions, such as the emotional impact of seeing former peers move on while deciding on reclassification. “Watching peers of the same age achieve developmental milestones before you can make a child feel alone,” argues Elbaum.


For parents of a brilliant athletes facing the challenge of reclassification, the “correct” answer is a combination of their personal values and what is best for their child. Indeed, a rule of guiding that no professional would dispute is that the decision should be taken deliberately and methodically, keeping the child’s best interests and family dynamics in mind.

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