In May, ABC News did a story about new trend where parents are “redshirting” their kids in grade school for athletics. The story tells that parents are holding their child back a year, making them older than thier competition, for the sole purpose of giving their kids a competitive advantage in Sports.
The trend is based on the idea that kids who “redshirt” will be bigger, stronger and faster than the competition they face, giving them a competitive advantage. As Palmer mentions, this is a big shift in regarding how parents were once treating their child’s athletics. Parents used to encourage their kids to “Play Up” and face competition above their level. The thinking is that the younger, smaller kids will have to figure out and work harder to get better than the competition, then the kids who play at or under their level that dominate and don’t need to get better. Although, experts warn against “redshirting”, parents continue to do it and the New York State Education Department seems to be encouraging it.
This Spring, the NYSED along with the New York State Athletic Administrators Association, New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Statewide School Health Services Center, and some local district officials came up with the Athletic Placement Process (APP) which are the new standards for 7th and 8th graders to meet in order to play High School Sports at the JV and Varsity level in New York State. This replaces the old standards of Selection/Classification where students needed to complete certain tests with certain results that would be required specific to the sport and the level they wanted to play. The minimum results required for athletes under Selection/Classification (Old) can be found on pages 26-30.
The Athletic Placement Process is not necessarily athletically tougher for middle school athletes, but involves a lot more paperwork and steps. Administration approval is now required. Athletic administrators have to decide the probability of the athlete playing at least 50% of time, that the student meets academic requirement and that they “should assess the student’s emotional readiness to socialize with high school-aged students”. The physical requirements of for the student-athletes also changes from the individual tests of Selection/Classification to the Presidential Physical Fitness Test where athletes have to meet the 85th Percentile.
Perhaps the most controversial part of APP is its use of the Tanner scale. The Tanner scale is a measure of a child’s physical maturity by the size of their genitals and pubic hair. The district holds to the right to not accept Tanner scale results from private medical providers. The NYSED gives conflicting statements about the need for the scores. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association asked the NYSED whether the Tanner Scores are required or recommended and they said scores were recommend. However, the official document of the (APP) states on page 6 (step 4) that “If the student is determined to not have attained an appropriate physical maturity level for the desired sport and level, the process stops.”
As one can see, the new classification will hinder Middle School Athletes from playing High School Sports. Thus, hurting the participation a number of sports such as wrestling and especially girls hockey that counts on usually one-fifth of the roster being 7th and 8th graders. The results of this new legislation could have deadly repercussions for some school sports. More Athletes and parents will become discouraged with the school sports system and go to club/travel teams which have become increasingly more popular in the past decade. High School Sports in New York could one day cease from existence and athletes will play exclusively for club teams. And there could be more costly repercussions from this then a loss in School spirit.
Our government isn’t exactly the most trustworthy entente this country has, but when it comes to youth sports it is. By letting Schools (our Government) control youth sports, coaches and teams are held to higher standards for safety and health of the players. Each School has their own certified trainer for practices. Depending where the teams practice, Trainers are only a few minutes drive from every player. Coaches have to be CPR trained and at least one trainer or parametric has to be present any High School Athletic contest in New York State. With club sports no guarantee is made for a player’s health and safety.
Participation in sports overall would be down in world with no School sports. Only those who can pay to be on the club teams or those that are talented enough that someone else would cover the cost would be able to play. Besides having obvious bad effects on the health of our youth, the effects of getting rid of school sports could hurt the pockets of professional sports leagues and those who make money off of them. By limiting the accessibility of a sport to youth, you are also limiting the amount the of fans a sport will have. Basically, people become fans of the sports they played when they were kids, if the number of young of participants in a sport are limited, the number of fans are limited. This is the situation with golf, a country club sport, that favors those who can afford the equipment and memberships in order to play the sport. Thus, most of the fans of Golf have country club memberships and that is only a small part of the population. So if you turn all sports in club teams that not all people can afford, all sports will have the popularity of golf. One has to also think about what kind of message parents are sending their kids if they’re willing to invest so much time and money in sports and not in other things.
The lack of accountability for a students grades are also something worth noting. Contrary to popular myth from the media and Hollywood, most schools will suspend or not allow student-athletes play if their grades are not good enough no matter how good they are on the field. Thus, making sure players will make school serious priority that comes above sports. Club/Travel team coaches may not give a care about a player’s grades in school. Thus leaving the only ones to keep a student accountable for their grades are the parents. The same parents who pull their kids out of school for tournaments throughout the year. Our Athletes could literally become more ignorant than many believe they are, if there is no school sport to keep them accountable.
As corrupt as the government may be, letting youth sports fall to wolves of big business could be much worse. Consider Sonny Vaccaro, who though working with Nike and his relationships with college basketball coaches and top recruits in the 70’s and 80’s, turned recruiting and college sports into the sketchy business that it is today. Perhaps, the biggest sign of what Vaccaro made is the AAU circuit, which is the wild wild west of sports. Where characters like Vaccaro slither around making back door deals with coaches all in the name of money. Eventually we might need to make an NCAA like organization to police youth sports and AAU. One can only imagine the new sets of problems that would come with that.
I’m not saying all club/travel sports teams are only working for their self-interests and don’t care about the other aspects of their athletes lives. I’m also not saying that all parents who let their kids play on those travel/club teams don’t care about their child’s grades. However, a society where club/travel sports rule will bring more of the feeling that there are haves and have-nots. Those who have will not only participate in sports at the highest levels but also at the youngest.
One can only speculate to the motive behind the legislation, whether for the health and safety of middle school athletes, a plan to limit the number of High School Sports for fiscal reasons, to target certain ones that relied on middle school athletes or even some conspiracy to make High School Sports obsolete. But I do know, as do many coaches and ADs, that this legislation will have an effect on High School sports and the way we know it.
Redshirting young athletes in 7th, 8th grade or even kindergarten give kids great benefits, in the short-term. Kids who red shirt will have a better (and inflated) view of their athletic abilities and therefore themselves. They might be able to dominant their opponents at the younger level with more time for physical maturity, but when they get to the next level, those advantages will almost certainly be gone and the lack of skills that they never developed will be blatant. By hindering the process for stronger athletes to play up and face older competition one can argue that it will have the same effect of redshirting and young athletes won’t face an equal level of competition.
But perhaps the “redshirt” movement, the Athletic Placement Process and the way society looks at youth sports are part of a bigger trend in our society. Many kids nowadays (I admit I might somewhat identify) seem to have everything handed to them. They get cell phones that cost hundreds of dollars without working a day in their life. Children who only live around the corner are being driven to and from school every day. Kids never have to learn anything because all of the knowledge of the world seems to be at their fingertips. Some kids get pulled out of school for the day just because it’s their birthday. Now these kids are becoming adults who believe that the world revolves around them. People always say that they want a better life for their child then they had, that’s great but are we perhaps making their childhood so much better than ours that we end up ruining their adulthood.
So for all the apps that make our lives easier, here’s one that makes it harder.