Canada·Point of View

Parents pushing hockey dreams may need reality check: Mark Schatzker

Parenting columnist Mark Schatzker weighs in on the wisdom of pushing kids into different kinds of sports.

Parenting columnist Mark Schatzker weighs in on the wisdom of pushing kids into different kinds of sports

With tens of thousands competing to get a spot on the team, the Olympic hockey dream may be the most intense for Canadian kids, but it's also the most unrealistic for many young athletes, writes Mark Schatzker. (The Canadian Press)

I have three kids. One's seven and the other two are five. And this year, for the first time in their young and beautiful lives, all three are old enough to participate in the quadrennial festival of sport and culture called The Winter Olympics.

Is Canada going to win Daddy? 

We're sure going to try.

Is Toronto's hockey team going to the Olympics, Daddy?

Um, that's not quite how it works, which is probably for the best.

Which brings us, of course, to the subject of hockey.

This year, for the first time in several decades, I will not be watching Olympic hockey at a sports bar in the glare of a big screen TV flanked by pitchers of draft beer. I will watch Olympic hockey in the comfort of my own living room, surrounded by the little wide-eyed creatures that sprang forth from my loins. I will indoctrinate my offspring into the great Canadian tradition of fear, suspense, and joy - or possibly soul searching - that is Olympic Hockey.

 And this brings up a question: Are my kids going to want to play hockey?

After all, every time I see that clip of Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal in the last Olympics, I imagine it's me. Are my kids going to spend their formative years imagining they are Sidney Crosby or Hayley Wickenheiser?

And is this a good thing?

If parents are coaches, and the sport they are coaching is getting their kids to the Olympics, is hockey a good strategy? I'm not sure it is.

Think about it. My kids will be competing against tens of thousands of other Canadian kids to get a spot on that team. The Olympic hockey dream may be the most intense, but it's also the most unrealistic.

Perhaps the better question to ask is, what if they don't make the hockey team?

Before pushing their kids to the limit chasing an Olympic hockey dream, Mark Schatzker says parents might want to evaluate whether their offspring could have a better chance of succeeding as Olympians in other sports. (The Associated Press)
Like most Canadians, I know a bunch of people who were really good at hockey growing up. I have two friends who were a tier or so below NHL quality. They got scouted. They flirted with scholarships to American universities. But neither one got beyond Junior A.

And here's the thing: neither one plays hockey anymore. Not even beer league. The hockey portion of their life was brief, extraordinarily intense, and now it's over. 

I have another friend who didn't play hockey seriously. He played squash seriously. So seriously that he made the squash team at Princeton University. And he still plays squash, several times a week.

Squash, of course, isn't as prestigious as hockey. It's safe to assume there a lot more Canadian little boys and girls who imagine they are Sidney Crosby or Hayley Wickenheiser than one of the country's best squash players. I can't even tell you the names of Canada's best at squash.

But if you're looking at this as a coach, what's the better strategy?

In the context of the winter Olympics, it comes down to this: Do any of my kids have a shot at making the 2026 Canadian hockey team? Probably not. But what about biathlon? Luge? Or cross country skiing? I'm 40 and I still cross country ski. But I don't play hockey.

I put the question to my son, who is five. "Henry, if you went to the Olympics for team Canada, would you rather play hockey or do cross country skiing?"

Here's what he said: "I want to do sprinting."

Sprinting. Well, sure. Summer Olympics. Donovan Bailey. We'll spend winters training in Jamaica with Usain Bolt.

Then my son said the kind of thing five-year-olds say all the time, "Actually, I want to be an Egyptologist."

And that's when it hit me. It's not up to me what sport - or what anything - my kids become good at. Ultimately, it's up to them.

My job is to cheer them on. And for that, I'm planning on a gold medal performance.


Mark Schatzker is a writer, CBC radio columnist and author of "Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef," which he wrote while his extraordinary wife was breastfeeding twins.


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