Heather Prosser’s daughter, Gabrielle, started playing hockey when she was in grade two. The now 12-year-old took to the ice like a natural. “She loved skating and going after that puck,” says Prosser, who lives in Bowmanville, Ont. After scoring a whopping 55 goals during her first season, Gabrielle was called up to play as a substitute on a more competitive team that year, and the positive experience left her wanting more. “She begged to play on a rep team,” says Prosser. “She asked us every single day and promised to do her very best.”
With two nephews already playing at the competitive level, Prosser knew it would involve more time and money than recreational hockey. She and her husband also wondered how the change might affect their daughter—and, indeed, the whole family. They were right to wonder. Moving into rep sports—a more competitive level than recreational—is a big decision, one that ultimately needs to be made by the parents, regardless of how enthusiastic your little athlete is. “Even if your kid is motivated, good at a certain sport and better than other children, you still need to keep your hands on the reins and investigate,” says Paul Jurbala of Canadian Sport for Life, an organization that aims to improve the quality of sport and physical activity in Canada.
So if your kid’s been told she’s one of the best players on her team and is asked to think about moving up, what should you do? Here are some questions to ask yourself (and your kid, too) before saying yes to rep.
Does your family have the time?
Prosser says Gabrielle practises for an hour about four times a week—and that doesn’t include games or tournaments. This is pretty typical for most rep athletes. What’s more, practices are often at night, which can cut into family dinners or lead to later bedtimes.
Can you afford it?
Buying equipment and paying registration fees, not to mention the costs of travel for tournaments and pre-game meals, can put some families in a financial bind. Prosser, for one, spends approximately $5,000 a year on Gabrielle’s hockey.
Is your kid mentally and physically prepared?
More competition means higher stakes, which can lead to a lot of stress for kids. There are some potentially upsetting aspects of rep sports: She could be given less playing time in favour of stronger players, she could be cut from the team, or she might make it while her BFF might not. Walk her through these scenarios and gauge her reaction. She’ll also have to be self-motivated. She needs to know that you won’t tolerate having to drag her out of bed or nag her to pack her bag.
The physical requirements can be a lot for some kids, too. Let yours know she’ll need to perform at a higher level and will be pushed a lot harder than she’s used to. Try to visit the current rep team during a practice to get a sense of the competitiveness required and to find out whether your kid can fit in.
Are you too focused on the future?
Some parents are quick to say yes to rep sports because they hope the hours of intense practice could lead to a future career in pro sports. It’s natural to fantasize about your kid becoming the next Sidney Crosby, but opportunities in professional sports are extremely limited. No matter how talented your kid is, the chances she’ll become a pro are very low.
After much debate and deliberation, Prosser and her husband decided to let Gabrielle join the rep hockey team. She seemed to want to play rep for all the right reasons—citing a desire to get more of a challenge and to improve her skills. Prosser was able to alter her work hours to make time for practices, while her husband chose to use his vacation days for tournaments. “It’s an adjustment,” she admits. “But for us, the time and financial requirements are worth it, because she wants it so much.”
Did you know?
ParticipAction, a non-profit organization that promotes physical activity for Canadians, reports that if a girl isn’t participating in a sport by age 10, there’s only a 10 percent chance she’ll be physically active at age 25.