Power: Kids should never have to choose which sport to play

Coaches and organizations in various sports need sort out their scheduling conflicts, so kids can play all the sports they desire, writes Don Power.
Don Power says young athletes are forced to pick from competing in provincial championships, or joining up in another sport they love, due to time conflicts. (CBC)

With the snow finally melting to reveal a sopping wet ground, outdoor enthusiasts are no doubt looking forward to the inevitability of getting out to play on the various fields and pitches.

Soccer, softball, baseball, rugby, and even golf all wait patiently for winter to end and their time to arrive. Regardless of the amount of snow, the reality is that these outdoor sports don't start their seasons for another four to six weeks. But that doesn't mean these sports aren't actively preparing for their season.

Work is well underway on the organizational side to be ready when the weather breaks and the whistle blows to start the year. 

Simultaneously, winter sports — notably hockey, but basketball, too — are still in full swing, and will be through the end of April and into May.

That means the winter and summer seasons overlap. Now with artificial turf fields growing in popularity and indoor facilities available, seasons are stretching well beyond their 'traditional' seasons.

For most places, that’s not a problem. Some sports have their dedicated athletes who've been pounding the ball into their glove since the last out was made in October chomping at the bit to get back on the field. But most athletes have been kept busy curling, playing hockey or basketball or volleyball.

And in Newfoundland and Labrador, that's where the problem arises. Shoulder season — that time when winter and summer sports overlap — is problematic for our young athletes. It's more prevalent in the fall than spring, but it exists in both.

Overlapping schedules

Every autumn, the same problem arises in September and October. Baseball and soccer, in particular, have ended their local seasons, but teams from all over the province are preparing for Atlantic and national championships. Naturally, these clubs are filled with the best athletes playing those sports.

However, more often than not, these are the same kids who will make the local all-star hockey or basketball or high school teams. They are certainly the same kids who want to try out for those teams. 
Overlapping schedules for sports in Newfoundland and Labrador means some young athletes are forced to choose which sport they want to pursue, rather than being able to take part in all of them, writes Don Power. (File photo)

But conflicting schedules often means something has to be sacrificed.

When an Atlantic baseball tournament is slated to be held the same weekend as the tryouts for all-star hockey, decisions have to be made. Where does the kid go? If he misses all-star tryouts, his hockey season could be ruined. But if he passes up a chance at an interprovincial baseball tournament, he may never get that opportunity again.

Sometimes exemptions are made, so the baseball player can miss the hockey tryout, and still advance to the second round of evaluations. Maybe the basketball player can skip that practice to try out for soccer. Maybe not.

Young athletes shouldn't have to choose

We all know our population base is small, which means the number of athletes available to the various sports is small. In Ontario, the sports have so many more kids to choose from to make up their teams. 

Here, we don't have that luxury. We need the baseball players on the hockey team, because they're probably the better athletes. Conversely, we need the hockey players on the baseball team, to get them off skates for an extended period.

One thing is certain: you can't change the calendar. So, we must change the way we use it. Sports need to start working together to avoid these problems. Each sport wants the best athletes — that's understandable. When you go to an event outside the province, you want to represent your home as best you can.

Somehow, we need to get together to determine how to avoid hockey tryouts on the same weekend as soccer nationals. We also need to set it up to allow our young boys and girls to participate in both sports.

Soccer picks rep teams for 2014 in the fall of 2013, and practices during the winter. Don't miss too many practices, or you're off the team. Hockey and basketball run camps and private clinics all summer, keeping kids who should be running round outside running around inside.

Currently, the disturbing trend is asking young athletes to specialize at an extremely young age. Asking a 10-year-old kid to choose between soccer and hockey is wrong at that age. Eventually, if he or she progresses on one sport or the other, they will have to choose. But not at 10.
Jason Jaffray, captain of the St. John's IceCaps, played baseball in his home province until he was in his mid-teens, as well as hockey. (CBC)

Accommodate and change

IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray is a huge baseball fan, and was a good player in his home province. He didn't fully choose hockey until he was 16 years old and decided to pursue hockey as a career. Most famously, Wayne Gretzky played baseball each summer until he was 16. He also put his skates away each summer.

Sport Newfoundland and Labrador, as the organization overseeing all these individual sports, should try to facilitate some schedule management that could help alleviate this situation. But we don't have enough athletes available to the various sports to have this overlapping of seasons.

And if we hope to win anything on the national scene, we obviously need our best athletes competing.

Eliminating many of them because of a scheduling conflict — and making them pick one sport over another at too young an age — is something that can and should be rectified. But only if sports stop being selfish and greedy and work together.

That shouldn't be too tough, should it?

Follow Don Power on Twitter @PowerPlay27.


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