One truism of youth sports is that some of the best players in fourth grade are no longer the top players when they get to high school. Oftentimes some of the best youth players quit the sport before they reach varsity. The reverse also holds true. Some kids who were not big play makers in fourth grade turn into marquee players in high school.

In Shakopee youth football, players are evaluated on a series of skills and drills, such as a 40-yard dash, agility drill, and tackling. Then they’re ranked from best to worst. When the current seniors were fourth-graders, they were put into weight groups — light, medium light, medium heavy, and heavy. Each of the six teams that year got at least four players from each group in an effort to ensure parity.

I happen to have the rankings from when the seniors were in fourth grade. I thought it would be interesting to see how those who are still playing ranked during their first year of tackle football. There are 27 seniors currently playing, according to a list that was shared with me.

The rosters in 2011 show 98 kids playing fourth-grade football, but it’s a little misleading. A handful of third-graders played at the fourth grade level, and at least one fourth-grader played on a fifth-grade team. For the purposes of this article, I excluded the players I know were in third grade to focus on this year’s seniors.

Here are some observations:

  • Of the top 15 ranked players in fourth grade, only four are still playing. Four kids who ranked in the bottom 10 are still playing.
  • Only one of the top five ranked kids is still playing. The highest overall ranked player is no longer playing.
  • Six of the top 25 players are still playing, and six of the bottom 25 are playing.
  • The player ranked sixth from the bottom and second-to-last in his weight class is now a beast of a player and has been playing varsity since his sophomore year.
  • Jack Casey, Conner Raines, and Travis Barrett ranked high in fourth grade and have been team leaders and big play makers every year since.
  • Two of the top 10 heavy weights, out of 24 players in that category, are still playing. Four of the bottom seven heavy weights are playing.
  • Only two of the light weight kids, out of 24, are still playing. Only two medium light weight kids are still playing.
  • Players who ranked in the middle of the pack were the most likely to quit. Of players ranked 30th though 51st, only one is still playing.

This data shows that a lot of kids in Shakopee have quit football. However, it also shows that players who might be timid or not top athletes in fourth grade can still end up playing varsity. If they work hard and stick with the sport, their time to shine might come later. Kids mature at different rates. Some have mustaches in sixth grade and stop growing shortly thereafter. Others hit a growth spurt in junior high and turn into the better players.

The same holds true across other sports, too. Some top players continue to dominate year after year, while others who were the best players in youth end up moving to the bottom of the roster in subsequent years or quit the sport altogether to focus on something else.

Conversely, some who were lower caliber players in youth become top players in high school. That’s why it’s important to not let what happens when kids are nine years old determine whether or not they continue in a sport, or any other activity for that matter.

This is also why coaches should give each player attention, instruction, and opportunities. Alienating athletes who end up quitting the sport because they’re excluded can hurt the entire program all the way through the varsity level.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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