Misconceptions of the Medical Redshirt

It’s a common experience in college sports — the redshirt year — an entire year without competition, without suiting up for a rivalry game and without playing in front of a crowd.

For these reasons, the idea of a redshirt year carried a negative atmosphere during my own experience in the recruiting process. I didn’t want to sit out. I didn’t want to arrive on campus and feel like I wasn’t good enough to play straight out of the gates.

The fact of the matter is redshirting carries a negative connotation with a lot of people in the world of sports. A lot of times, it’s looked at as the result of the athlete making the wrong choice in the recruiting process. They went to a school where they would never play — so they had to redshirt. They weren’t ready or good enough — so they had to redshirt.

I believed all this when I was going through the recruiting process, and just recently arrived at the realization of how wrong this stigma is.

So what does redshirting really mean for an athlete? Being redshirted means you and your coaches truly care about getting the most out of your experience as a student and a player. It means getting stronger, faster, smarter, realizing your potential and being patient enough to let it develop.

After an overwhelming freshman season, I’d always said I wished I had redshirted as a freshman and had more to time to adjust before being thrown into the fire of college basketball. Careful what you wish for, though, right? This year I got my redshirt season, but not in the conventional way.

The medical redshirt allows players with chronic, long-lasting injuries to save a year of eligibility while healing up on the sidelines. If regular redshirting wasn’t originally in my college plans, needless to say, the medical redshirt was something I never envisioned experiencing. But now that I have — wow, am I grateful for this unplanned adventure.

Naturally, it’s a huge topic of conversation. Friends, family, fans and even complete strangers want to know why you traded in your jersey and the court for a travel suit and a seat on the bench — and most of these people, well, they would be extremely confused to hear me say I’m thankful for the way this season turned out. In countless conversations, I’ve heard so many comments that depict their perceptions of the circumstance, but many of these things don’t actually coincide with the experience at all. There’s a lot of misconceptions of the medical redshirt, and here are a few of my favorites.

1 – “So you’re sitting the bench this year? Probably weird to be so disconnected from the game.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. Redshirting does mean viewing the game strictly from the sideline, but I’ve never felt a disconnect with the game. In fact, I feel more connected, mainly because this change in roles has given me the opportunity to experience different sides of the game — aspects that maybe needed some work. Sitting the bench, for instance — I’ve never had that role. I’ve also learned that’s not an accurate description of what that job entails. “Sitting the bench” involves a lot more standing, clapping, jumping up and down and getting up to give high fives and be a great, supportive teammate than sitting.

“Sitting” is also coaching. It’s knowing the game plan as well as anyone, and helping prep and direct teammates. It’s serving as an extra set of eyes, and many times, being the mediator of information between your coaches and teammates.

2 – “So you’re taking the year off?”

Excuse me, no. This “year off” has been the busiest of my athletic career. Medical redshirts attend every practice, every weights session and, on their own time, complete an hour or more of rehab each day. Yes, it’s a year bound by physical restraints, but when all you can do is watch, you really start to pay attention. You notice the details, and you study the game in a way you never have to keep your mind right. You watch film, you imagine yourself going through game situations and you might even watch old tapes of yourself just so you can remember that you once were, and still are, a pretty decent college athlete.

3 – “I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry? For what? I know it might be the courteous thing to say to someone who is in a less than ideal situation, but I don’t feel sorry for myself and neither should you. Injuries are a part of sports. The medical redshirt is a small obstacle, but a large opportunity to get better.

I’d be lying if I said redshirting wasn’t a weird experience. A “gap year” in sports definitely falls out of most athlete’s comfort zone. But no matter how rusty you feel, once a competitor, always a competitor — and let’s be honest, the comeback is going to be a whole lot of fun.