Redshirting in Youth Sports

I was recently introduced to the term redshirting in reference to athletic eligibility and I was immediately perplexed as to the meaning. I am familiar with being red carded when it comes to sports, but this was something entirely new. And so, I set out to figure it out and was surprised to learn that the term is used to describe 3 different but similar situations.

The term itself refers to student eligibility to play school sports.

Parent Initiated Redshirting

For some families, having their child attend college on an athletic scholarship is so important that they will intentionally hold back their child one year from advancing to high school. The thought is that it will provide additional time for maturation and sport proficiency so that their child has a better chance at gaining the attention of college recruiters. This type of suppression is usually done immediately before high school but it is also somewhat common at the beginning of a child’s school life with holding back students before kindergarten. 

College Redshirts

A college student is eligible to play athletics for four years and has a five-year window of time to do this. When the term redshirt is used in reference to a college student, it is referring to a freshman who experiences a non-participatory year of athletics by sitting on the bench during games. 

They may practice with the team and attend team function but athletes are not allowed to play in a game. Some reasons for this would be to allow the student a period of time to acclimate to college life and to physically catch up to their peers. Students may need to work on their size, strength and conditioning in order to match the physical attributes of others on the team or opposing team members. Another possible reason could be that there is too much depth on the team for the position they play and there is no chance they will have the opportunity to play until the veterans graduate. By sitting out a year, they maintain their four years of eligibility. 

High school Redshirts

Redshirting at the high school level is less about enhancing athletic development and more about keeping balance in school sports. To reduce the possibility of stacking a team to win provincial championships, restrictions are placed on athletes who change schools after grade 10. There are several seemingly justified reasons why a student may want to change schools that have nothing to do with athletics, but it won’t mean that they will be allowed. In fact, based on my research there are actually very few occasions when a student would be allowed to play the same sport they played at their previous school. 

Obviously intentionally stacking high school teams is not desirable but is refusing an athlete the opportunity to learn and play at a high level really in their best interests? It is an interesting conundrum. Many times, kids are first exposed to certain sports in high school when they either discover a strong interest or a natural talent. It is reasonable that those students would want to develop their skills by playing at the highest level possible with the most gifted team mates and best coaches. If they are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to move to a new school – longer commute, making new friends – even moving to live with family/friends or host families, then who benefits from redshirting at the high school level?

If your student is interested in pursuing athletics at a school other than where they attended Grade 10, you will need to contact your own provincial athletic association to understand eligibility rules that apply to your situation. Click here for transfer rule Q&A from Manitoba High School Athletic Association.

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