The trend to hold your child back in school to gain athletic advantages has picked up momentum in recent years, but is this a smart move for families? To be clear, these are kids who would otherwise advance in grade because of adequate academic marks, but are held back in the same grade simply to grow physically and have a greater chance for sport success (and hopefully an eventual college athletic scholarship). In some cases these calculations may pay off, but in many more instances the decision to improve sport skills through school grade repetition simply doesn’t provide the return on investment. If you are currently entertaining questions around grade repetition for sport success, there are a number of important points to consider before making a final decision.
The pros and cons of holding kids back for athletic advantages
As with most decisions in life, there are both potential advantages and risks when it comes to holding your child back in school simply for physical growth opportunities. In a best case scenario the extra year might allow your child to physically catch up to his or her peers, leading to greater self-confidence and measurable athletic improvements on the field. Still, even in these examples there are no guarantees that the child will earn a future athletic scholarship, or even have an opportunity to walk on to a college team (statistics show that only about 5% of all high school students advance to college sports). From my own experience working with families who have tried to boost their child’s chances for an athletic scholarship I have found the results to be negligible, at best (and in some cases have caused unforeseen problems).
On the other hand, there appear to be a growing list of serious concerns to consider if the decision to repeat a grade does not work out. For example, some kids are bullied and ridiculed by their peers, often viewed as cheating the system through unsportsmanlike means. Another set of problems that can occur include a greater chance for sports burnout, and/or experiencing a stagnation of skills due to playing lesser competition rather than advancing with the original peer group class. A third concern relates to academic problems that can arise when asking kids to repeat classes they have already successfully completed yet are required to do over.
The decision to hold your child back in school for athletic advantages is not one I generally recommend, and the times I have been open to the idea have been when the child truly could benefit academically from the decision, and/or is noticeably smaller physically and could use the extra year to mature. Still, even in these examples I always reiterate that if the goal of this decision is to increase the chances for a college athletic scholarship, the odds of that happening are incredibly remote. Support and encourage your kids, provide fair opportunities, and help them compete as hard as they can along with their natural classmates — if it’s in the cards for them to succeed in sports, they probably won’t need an extra year repeating a grade anyway.