Holding Back to Move Forward

There’s no shortage of passionate debate regarding the subject of student athletes taking a hold back year. The two perspectives are intensely personal: does holding back help the student grow and mature, physically and mentally, before they are thrown into stressful situations? Or does the hold back stigmatize the student as slow or “stupid” while giving the school an unfair advantage, employing an athlete’s talent that could exceed their on-field rivals? And what are the perceptions and social ramifications in either case?  I’ve had the rare opportunity to work with athletes who made the choice in both directions.

As the founder and CEO of Winner Circle Athletics (WCA), I am 100% on board for the hold back year.  At the heart of my support is my personal experience: the hold back year in my case significantly helped me achieve goals of getting a full scholarship to the top college of my choice which eventually led to allowing me to play professional football for three years before retiring from the NFL. I often wonder how my academic and athletic career would have been different if I had not elected to take a hold back year.

But there are many, many challenges along the way. By far the biggest misconception about kids getting held back for sports reasons is the assumption that the child can’t keep up academically.  This is a stigma that sadly exists in many places. But that is simply not the truth at WCA.  At my charter school and sports training facility, we created a system that allows kids to come to our prep school program with full knowledge that they will likely be held back – the primary objective being to see them develop both mentally and physically before going to high school.  In a sense, it mitigates obstacles that can cripple the middle school child who is susceptible to social pressures.  They are allowed to get their minds and bodies more prepared for the tough road ahead as a student athlete.

Yet that often leads to the next misconception – many people believe that it will be an easy track to be held back and be a year older without doing anything to improve yourself. Or, put another way, that it’s somehow cheating the system. To the contrary, the hold back year is to help your kid mature and grow to fulfill their long term goals.  So, if a kid is 13 years old in 8th grade that means he is going to be 16 or 17 years old his senior year.  Technically you can be an 18 year old senior. So why would you want to force the issue, having your kid go into college and play sports at 17 years old?  That is a lot of pressure on his mind and his body.

Instead, parents need to think about preparing their child so he or she can maximize their abilities as they go through high school and college. It’s also about being ready to identify and seize opportunities that will get them where they want to be.

I was taught that you can always be bigger, stronger, faster and better prepared for life. That was my vision for being a student athlete.  Even though we promote the option of the hold-back year, it doesn’t mean they are behind their fellow students at all.  At WCA, because of the intensive learning atmosphere and teacher dedication, we set up the students to graduate high school a full semester early, if they choose to. So now, if you did decide to hold your child back, he still has the option — because we carefully prearrange this — to graduate high school a full semester early.  We also arrange  concurrent enrollment that allows Juniors and Seniors to take classes through Northwestern University or Arizona State University.  Which means, your “held back” child  can even graduate high school with an AA degree and head to his college of choice.  Basically, your child can get a BA Degree in just two years and a Master’s Degree in four years… in simple terms it’s like taking one step back to take two steps forward.  In this case, two giant leaps towards achieving your goals of success.

In the final analysis, “hold back” has an unfortunate negative connotation. In the context of a hold back year for student athletes, it’s anything but negative  — it’s actually about setting him up, and an example of giving him or her every benefit, for a lifetime of winning.


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