These days it is not uncommon for families to examine the very real possibility of holding their child back in school, not for traditional academic concerns, but instead so that he or she can physically grow and mature, and thereby have a better chance at becoming a more proficient and talented athlete. In fact, this scenario probably happens a lot more than you might think, as I have personally seen an increasing number of these cases come through my office in recent years. Interestingly, the negative stigma that used to go with having to be held back seems to have been replaced with a new mindset some families have taken that views re-doing another year of school as a smart sports decision.
Of course, before delving into this topic, it should be noted that there is not a “one size fits all” sport psychology answer to whether families should hold their child back in school. Some kids do in fact need another year to strengthen academics, possibly make up for a year where they were injured or sick, or maybe to simply mature. On the other hand, holding a child back solely to help him or her have a greater chance at an eventual DI full-ride athletic scholarship is generally not a wise move, especially when you look at the athletic scholarship success rate.
When you consider that roughly 5-7% of all high school student athletes will go on to compete in college athletics — and that this figure includes DIII athletes (non-athletic scholarship), walk-ons, and partial scholarships — only then can you begin to fully understand the magnitude of this decision. In other words, even if you do hold your child back in school in order to have a better chance at an athletic scholarship, the odds are still greatly against it happening.
While it is true that holding your child back a year will almost certainly allow your son or daughter to physically grow, there are still unforeseen risks around future injuries, academic ineligibility (if he or she doesn’t make the grade), or even trouble outside of school that could lead to a suspension (essentially offsetting the attempt to get a leg up by staying back a year). When you look at both the long-shot odds and the other potential risks involved, most would agree that it’s probably best to simply move on with your child’s current class.
The potential stigma
While it seems that more families, and even the kids themselves, are far less impacted by the negative social stigma that used to accompany being held back in school, it is still wise to add this variable into the family decision-making process. Kids can often be cruel, mostly because they are immature and not fully aware of the magnitude of their words and behaviors — and kids who are held back may be more at-risk to be teased or bullied. For some kids, this alone is enough to prompt them to want to move on with their normal class rather than stay back a year.
My general rule of thumb is if your child is academically ready to move on with his or her class, that should be the way to go short of some unusual circumstances. I also strongly discourage parents from holding their kid back a year solely for athletics. The question around whether to hold a child back in school should be one that includes many factors, and athletics, if a variable at all, should be one that is a minor consideration when compared to academic concerns, maturity, and other unique family issues.