Mason Pratt is a pretty typical six-year-old.
He likes playing outside with his friends and he just got a guitar for his birthday in September.
When asked what he likes most about kindergarten, he answers, “Eating lunch.”
Ah, the simple joys of childhood.
Mason also just kicked off his athletic career with his first season of tee ball. His mom, Emily, thinks he’s pretty good.
“He can hit a pitched ball. He doesn’t need a tee ball,” she says. “He can throw a football, throw a baseball further than I can. Which really isn’t saying a whole lot, but…he’s got some gifts.”
With a September 2006 birthday, Mason could have been starting first grade this fall. He’s not; Randy and Emily Pratt sent Mason to developmental kindergarten last year after listening to recommendations from their school system.
“My concern was that his confidence would be very low,” Emily says. “I didn’t want him to always be feeling like he was running to catch up.”
It’s a choice a lot of parents have to make when their kid has a birthday in the middle of the year: keep them pushed ahead in the educational system as a younger student, or have them be older in the grade behind.
But what about sports?
With the act of “redshirting” becoming a growing trend, it’s a likely assumption that these older kindergartners will grow into older high school seniors. Older can mean bigger, faster, and stronger. In the world of high school athletics, that can mean flat-out better.
“I’ve actually had people ask me, ‘Well, did you put him in DK so he’d be bigger for sports?’ Emily says. “I know that’s a drive in this community.”
“Mentioned he’s going to DK, and ‘Oh, he’ll be bigger for sports,'” Randy says. “That was their immediate reaction.”
Dr. Eddie O’Connor is a clinical sports psychologist in Grand Rapids. He deals with a lot of young athletes and their mental developments.
“There is a phenomena called the Relative Age Effect,” he says. “What that means is that in any given sport, the first three months – the kids who are gonna be older – are gonna have a little bit of an advantage. As you look at kids growing up, even in one grade, there’s a wide variety. Kids are growing so fast in speed and strength and height. Those kids at the beginning of the sport who are the oldest tend to get more of the attention.”
Simply put, if you’re older than everyone else on your team, there’s a good chance you’ll get more focus from coaches. That means better development.
But Dr. O’Connor says there are four dimensions of child development: physical, emotional, intellectual, and social. As any parents knows, every kid is different.
“Athletes – or kids in general – are going to develop across these different dimensions at different rates,” he says. “And they’re not all going to be matched the same based on their age.”
“You need basic talent. I’ve got a great mindset, but I’m not playing in the NFL, even though I may have that attitude or mindset. You can’t do it.”
It looks like Michigan State freshman hoopster Matt Costello has that talent.
Costello was a two-time Michigan Mr. Basketball at Bay City Western High School. ESPN ranked him as the 87th best prep recruit in the Class of 2012.
Matt was a late redshirt. His parents had him take sixth grade twice.
“I transferred schools and my parents wanted me to be older,” he says. No grade issues or anything like that, but as a younger kid, I was always younger than everybody else.”
“It was really tough. I was mad at my parents. I was like, ‘I don’t wanna be seen as stupid.’ And they were like, ‘No, this is better for you.’ And it is better for me. I’m glad they did it now.”
But did an extra year in middle school make the difference between a pretty good high school player and a Division 1 basketball prospect?
“When I got recruited, it was my ninth and tenth grade year,” Costello says. “But was the reason I got recruited because I had that skill as a ninth and tenth grader? What if I had those skills as a tenth and eleventh grader? I don’t know if I would’ve gotten a scholarship offer.”
A scholarship offer – let alone college – isn’t even on the Pratt family’s radar right now.
“Once we’re grown up, we’ve got plenty of time to be adults,” Randy says. “Why shorten the time he has to be a kid?”
Costello is very thankful for his extended childhood.
“I’m so glad I’m a freshman right now,” he says. “Just as far as mental maturity. I think I would do a whole lot of things different if I was going into my sophomore year. I would have made a lot more mistakes.”
“If you’re gonna redshirt a kid, he’s gonna have some advantages in one area and held back in others,” O’Connor says. “And if you don’t redshirt him, he’s gonna have advantages and disadvantages in the other.”
“The thing for the parents to do is to just be aware that when you make a decision in one area – like athletics – it’s not just there.”
Right now, Mason’s attention isn’t on any sport. He’s got a holiday choir concert coming up next month.
He says his favorite songs are ‘Away In A Manger,’ ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas,’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman.’