I was overwhelmed at the fabulous discussion that happened in response to my post about kindergarten redshirting. One of my readers, Sharon from Mom of 6, asked if she could guest post on a related topic – school birthday and sports birthday cutoff dates. I thought it was important to explore this dimension of the discussion, so I’ll let Sharon take it away!
Gigi’s post last week on “Redshirting, Hyperparenting, and The Generation of Mediocre Children” really hit a note with me, and after reading it I spent a few hours that night tossing and turning, unable to sleep (yes, parenting does that to me sometimes!). I thought about how the issue of school birthday cut-off dates has affected our family of six kids, particularly as it relates to team sports.
Rules Are Made for a Reason
My oldest son is a fairly bright kid, and although his birthday falls towards the end of the school calendar in terms of birthday cut-offs for kindergarten (11/18 vs. a cut-off of 12/1), we felt that he was ready academically and socially to start kindergarten “on time”. The way I look at this (and most of society’s rules for that matter), is that the rule, however abstract it may seem, is there for a reason. And unless I have a very compelling argument to break that rule… I am going to follow it.
But what I wasn’t prepared for- is how many people feel that the rule doesn’t apply to them or their child. And I didn’t know then how much my children would love playing competitive sports (soccer) and that the birthday cut-off used for sports does not line-up with the school birthday cut-offs.
So why are the cut-offs different?
School Birthday Cut Offs Are Not All The Same
The date assigned as the birthday cut-off date for kindergarten is not the same for all schools. It can differ by state, and sometimes by school district and even by type of school. Where I live in New York the public school cut-off is 12/1, but most private schools in our area use 9/1. (Click here to see the school cut-off in your state.) Since the dates across the country range from June 1-Dec 31, you can see why the birthday cut-off rule feels a bit random.
Sports Birthday Cut Offs are Typically Determined on a Nationwide Basis
While every local sports club can set their own rules regarding birthday cut-offs for sports teams, as kids get older and opt to play for more competitive travel-teams, the birthday cut-off rules begin to follow national guidelines and become more hard-and-fast. Typically for soccer and football it is 8/1, Little League is 5/1, and for lacrosse it is 8/31. The reason for these cut-offs is to make age-brackets consistent, so teams playing in a U12 division can expect to play kids of the same age range in games and tournaments, even if those tourneys take place in another state or town. And when you think about this, it makes sense… you don’t want your kids getting slammed by another player that is twice as big (well yes, that can happen even with kids in the same 12-month age range, but you get the idea here).
The Push to “Play Up”
And then there is a segment of hyper-competitive parents who feel that their child needs a more challenging sports environment, and request that their child be allowed to play with older teams in an effort to make their child work harder to become a better player. Doesn’t it sound crazy that first parents hold their kids back to start school in an effort to make them excel… and then want to believe their child is so athletically gifted that they push for them to to “play up”? I can’t help but wonder if this is all about “bragging rights”…. You know, “My kid is so talented that he plays U16 lacrosse even though he is only 13!”
Um, but have I been guilty of this? Yes, I have.
In 4th and 5th grades, my son so desperately wanted to play with his soccer-loving-best-friends, that I asked for permission for him to play with his grade-level rather than with his age-level. And since our local club was a bit relaxed with that guideline, they allowed it. That worked fine until he was trying out for a more competitive league that had a no-exceptions policy to the age cut-off rule. And at age 11, as my son was facing the transition to middle school, he had to decide if he loved soccer enough to play another year at U11 without his buddies or try out for a less competitive league.
It was so hard for him to watch his friends try out for different teams. There were lots of tears and yelling about the “unfair rules”. But here we are nearly a year later, and I can tell you that it worked out just fine. He has made new friends on his current soccer team, he has continued to grow and develop as a young athlete, and most importantly (to me) he continues to enjoy and participate in the sport he loves. And with one of our younger sons that misses the 8/1 soccer cut off by 12 days, we’ve already decided to have him start playing on teams according to his age, not his grade. Better to face this fact when he is in 3rd grade rather than when he is entering middle school.
And what did I learn?
Don’t work to break the rules. You’ll pay the price in the end when you reach the place where rules can no longer be bent. I also learned that in the long run it’s okay if you play sports with one age-range of kids and are in a grade with another.
So yes, my kid is the youngest and also probably the smallest boy in the entire 6th grade, and as a boy, that does bother him sometimes. Fortunately for him, his friendly and self-confident personality has so far kept him from being bullied. He also had to deal with the fact that he is playing soccer with kids in elementary-school (which seems like a huge issue when you are an 11-year old boy in middle school for goodness sake!), but he has made his peace with that too.
Yes, he will be the last kid to get his driver’s license, and the last kid to turn 21 in college. And sometimes that will stink (for him, not for us!). But someone always has to be first, someone always has to be last, and I don’t think it is my job as a parent to protect him from that reality. It’s his job to grow from it.