The term “redshirting” is often attributed to a Nebraska football player, Warren Alfson, who in 1937, asked to practice with the team (while wearing a numberless red shirt), but not play during the season. Since this time, redshirting has been used to denote athletes who are given an extra year to practice while they mature further in hopes that when it comes time to play, it will improve their performance.
More recently, though, redshirting is a term used to describe students who are held back from starting kindergarten with the idea that an extra year of growth and maturity will aid them in performing better in school. Most of these students have summer or spring birthdays that come before the state cutoff, but parents elect for a variety of reasons to not enroll them in kindergarten until the following year.
Over the years, research on this practice has not illustrated clear evidence of benefits. In 2006, the largest study of its kind published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis followed over 6,000 students into adulthood to determine the long-term impact of entering kindergarten at different ages. Although children who were redshirted had less likelihood of retention in early grades and better achievement, these results typically washed out by the time they entered the 3rd grade. Furthermore, other findings were as follows:
- Redshirted children had lower achievement scores in 10th and 12th grade, and were more likely to drop out of school
- Children who entered kindergarten by the normal cutoff were more likely to attend and graduate from college and had higher wages at the age of 25
- Children who entered at the normal time were just as likely to play varsity sports as those who were redshirted
- Redshirted children had more behavioral problems and subsequent arrests than their younger peers
It can be argued that some of the negative effects of redshirting could be attributed to the fact that children originally selected for this option were already identified as having social-emotional maturity and/or academic concerns. However, studies have also looked at children with no early concerns whom parents decided to redshirt, but again, no clear advantages have emerged.
School entry can be complex decision based on many factors. It is understandable that parents who feel that their young child may be lacking skills would choose to delay kindergarten entry. However, even in doing so, there is no guarantee that the child will not be retained at a later age. Retention at any age, especially when it occurs more than once, carries negative benefits. What is clear, though, is that research does not support redshirting or retention solely on the basis of age. Therefore, parents would be advised to only consider redshirting in situations where there are both clear areas of academic/maturity concerns and there is a higher percentage of retention in a given school. For those who are considering redshirting for athletic purposes, evidence again does not support this decision. As with any trend, it is important to consider the available evidence before making a likewise choice.