I Don’t See the Value in Paying for Kids to Spend Six Days a Week Practicing Hockey
By Natalie Romero
Photo © mskvasik/Twenty20
Apr 5, 2019
I sat in the stands watching my daughter swim. Back and forth she went, cutting through the water as though this is where she was meant to be. This year, for the first time, my daughter started swimming competitively for our local swim club.
She has always loved the water. We put both our kids in swimming lessons as we felt it was a life skill that should be learned early. At the end of one session her coach approached us and asked if our daughter might be interested in joining the competitive league.
The coach and I chatted about how my daughter is drawn to the water, her abilities in the pool and why the competitive program might be a good fit for her. She explained that the competitive stream meant practices twice a week and the occasional swim meet. After talking it through as a family, we decided to give it a shot.
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You're Committing to A Lot
Looking back, I don’t know if I really understood the financial and time commitment this would mean for our family.
That afternoon as I watched her swim, I overheard a conversation happening between the mothers sitting beside me. They all worried how they were going to fulfill the mandatory volunteer hours and raise enough money to cover the minimum fundraising amounts. I listened in because I have been worrying about the same thing. As a family with two working parents, spare time is almost non-existent, so trying to find time to give volunteer hours is next to impossible.
It’s very overwhelming. The commitment has caused us to analyze if she will continue in the competitive stream next year.
A Case For Sticking to House League
I found myself wondering what happened to kids sticking with house league sports? Leagues where the goal is to play, have fun, be active and win some and lose some?
We are a sports-loving family. Our kids are active in both team sports and individual sports. I believe in the the skills they will gain, the confidence they build, the physical activity they get and the friendships they make by participating.
A few years ago when it became obvious that my son was excelling at soccer and would need to move up to a higher level, it wasn’t such a life-altering commitment. It meant an extra practice a week and travelling to surrounding cities for games but it was manageable.
But something changed.
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Eventually the vibe shifted and parents became vocal about investigating different soccer clubs in the hopes their child would get better training. Some parents began travelling two hours each way up to three times a week for their child to play soccer at a club where they felt they would get a competitive edge.
Some of my ten-year-old son’s hockey-playing friends are on the ice six or seven days a week, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. on a school day.
When do they eat dinner or do their homework? When do they hang out with their friends from school or have down time at home with their siblings? When do they sleep?
'I feel like clubs are making it clear to players and parents that they must choose a sport.'
In the summer, once hockey season is over, there is dry-land training and come the end of outdoor soccer season they bring the game indoors.
I feel like clubs are making it clear to players and parents that they must choose a sport. At 10-years-old and even younger, it seems as though they are telling kids that they can’t play multiple sports, if they want to be great.
It seems crazy, but it’s also no surprise. If you are expected to practice almost every day, when do you have time to play another sport or pursue other interests?
The Downside of Specialization
Research has shown that early sports specialization can lead to injury and may actually be doing more harm than good.
But I’m not sure who is listening to the data.
Being active in the sports community, I see the chaos it brings to families. Parents are giving up their lives and spending a small fortune. There are the annual fees, fundraising, extra training camps and sessions, and entry fees — and that is not including the cost of tournaments away.
“When you add travel, accommodation, food for two kids our U.S. competition is upwards of $700,” says Linda Cventanovic, whose two daughters take part in competitive cheer competitions.
Some use it as an opportunity to get away with their family and make the most of it. “It was an all inclusive experience that included hotel rooms, food and tournament fees. The total was around $2000. We made it into a weekend family getaway and had an amazing time,” says Becky Rahn, who went to Lake Placid for a hockey tournament with her family.
When Did This Happen?
I don’t recall my athletic friends being pulled out of school in the elementary years so that they could travel to some far off city to play in a tournament. My parents didn't sign me up for baseball because they believed I may one day play for the MLB. I didn’t dance because I hoped to one day join the National Ballet. I participated in activities for the fun and the friends and because I enjoyed them.
I grew up playing sports but it was never this intense. The summer sport season ended before we were back in school and there were a few weeks before the winter sport season began.
Most of us played house sports where we played once a week, and there were winners and losers and ribbons and trophies.
'It’s such an amazing experience but it can’t be at the expense of their childhood.'
Maybe it did exist but I didn’t take part in it. We were always involved in sports, but I don’t think my parents would have been able to afford the “upwards of $10,000 a year” that Sheena Elise says some of her friends pay for their kids to play AA hockey.
When my son started showing an interest in playing hockey, we signed him up for our local recreational league. He loves playing. Immediately friends started asking if he would try out for the select team or the AA team, which means he’s now asking if he can try out. I’m hesitant, and up until now have encouraged the recreational league. Because I know the minute he moves up, hockey will be his entire life and in my opinion he’s too young to have one sport take over.
I love that my kids get excited about sports. Being a part of it is so exciting. Cheering them on from the stands, watching my daughter up on that swimmers block ready to launch herself into that water, seeing my son celebrate a goal with his team. It’s such an amazing experience but it can’t be at the expense of their childhood.
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