In college sports, redshirting is the practice of holding back a student athlete from actual competition in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility while his or her skills improve. In everyday life, redshirting kindergarten aged children has become an increasingly common practice among middle-class parents as they attempt to give little Jacob a competitive edge over his 5 year old peers.
Malcom Gladwell, in his book “Outliers” makes a case for this practice citing the superior development and performance of Canadian Hockey players throughout their career whose birthdays occurred in the first four months of the year versus those born in the last eight months. He contends that because the cutoff age in youth hockey is almost always January 1, the older, more physically developed players tend to excel, which leads to more all-star team selections, better coaching, better opportunities, and so on. Further, he documents this fact with an example where 72 percent of the roster of the 2007 Medicine Hat Tigers had birthdays in the first four months of the year. He goes on to provide similar examples in baseball and the results appear to be consistent with those found in hockey.
As the redshirting practice proliferates, it seems that it is having the effect of just raising the bar for everyone, often at the expense of the younger ones that struggle to compete with their older classmates. Then there is the unintended consequence of having the older, more physically and mentally developed child playing down to the level of the younger ones. I have personally witnessed this over and over as a coach in organized youth sports.
Moreover, it seems that the overall stress level of young middle-class families has been elevated, due in large part, to overscheduling of their kid’s activities. The term “Soccer Mom” was born in the 1996 presidential election. It was coined by the Clinton campaign to describe the overburdened, working, middle-class, minivan driving moms. This high octane activity level of activity has now progressed to the whole family while reducing quality family time – a time when the whole family gets together at the dinner table every evening to communicate with each other. While the marvels of technology now allow us to be always available and plugged in, text messaging has now taken the place of face to face conversations.
The pressure put on our children and grandchildren to excel should be carefully evaluated. All too often, it is the parent’s interests and agendas that are forced upon the kids, while they dismiss the true talents and interests of the child. Not every 12 year old boy will be an all-star shortstop or a world class hockey player. We should work harder to recognize and understand where our kid’s true abilities and interests lie so that we can help channel them in the right direction. In the process, we just may just get to know them better and even have an actual conversation from time to time.
One thing I have learned over the years with my two sons and five grandsons is that each has their own special set of skills and interests, and one size does not fit all. You learn these things as a grandparent that you were too busy to recognize as a parent.