Grab a coffee (or tea), this one’s gonna be a longy.

I’m gonna put something out there today which may sound like common sense, but I don’t think really is.

Hello, and Happy Monday! I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Our weekend ended on a high when this guy finally wrote his high school entrance exam yesterday morning. BOOM, what a relief that’s over!!! I’m not quite sure where the years have gone, and how we got here. But we’re there.

Walking in to write the exam

Now stay with me… if you live in Quebec, chances are your kid plays hockey as do my boys. It’s kind of our thing. But it doesn’t really matter where you live… for the sake of this post, it is interchangeable with gymnastics, football, basketball, cheerleading, soccer, whatever competitive sport your child may play.

I will now give you the back story so that you may follow along. When my eldest son started playing hockey, his little brother was still in diapers… in other words, big brother took up all the resources (time, chauffeuring to practices, etc…). He showed his great skill at a young age, which came as the result of a lot of work and practice. My husband made sure he had all those extras… power skating, extra private ice time, all the extra hours on the ice to improve his game to be able to give him a chance to make the highest level each year (the extras on top of his hockey program which was already 3-4 times per week).

And he did. He made the A teams.


And then my little son grew, and he too wanted to become a hockey player. He finally became a highly active member of this family and he had needs as well. He showed his hockey skill at an even younger age, and had a raw, natural talent. He was stick-handling at 14 months in the basement before he could even walk and was watching hockey DVDs day and night. Sports came very easy to him.

Winter 2009-10 266

Again, stay with me. I have a husband who works by Montreal standards, relatively far away. I cannot call him to leave work at 4:30pm to bring a kid to hockey practice for 5:30pm. I just can’t and I don’t. He can’t leave that early. Hockey practices and other sports have been my responsibility to get them there. He always comes after work at 6:30 or 7pm and watches and encourages them, but he does not do the after school RUSH: rush to do homework, rush to eat dinner, rush to make it to hockey practice on time. I would like to say, that when the boys play on the same night, he always leaves early, so he is hugely helpful.

Fast forward to a few years ago… I now had two thriving boys playing hockey, each 3-5 times per week (that’s 8 times in an arena on average most weeks), coupled with baseball, weekly tennis, etc… When the extra ice time for my son stopped due to my sheer inability to be everywhere at once, he stopped making the very top level (still high, not highest). The ability to do all the extras to keep him at the highest level wasn’t an option anymore… my little son deserved to play just as much as his older brother, and everyone knows that to make a YOUNG player great, it’s all in the ice time. The more you play, the better you get. He wasn’t playing as much as he had been, and therefore he wasn’t as good as the friends who were still getting the extras. Many of those friends had fathers who worked from the home or who were able to leave work early throughout the week to take their kids to extra practices. I didn’t have that situation.

And while none of these kids are going to the NHL (okay, maybe Massimo will, my son’s teammate from years ago), it IS a status thing among peers (I’m talking both kids AND parents), to say your kid made AAA or AA hockey. And I could sense my boy’s embarrassment a few years ago when he made the second highest level and his friend at school asked him, “So, what level did you make?”  I said to him, “You can’t compare yourself to friend X sweetheart, he deserves that highest level, because he is working hard to stay there. He is on the ice 6-7 times per week.” Keep in mind, we asked our son throughout this entire process if he still wanted all the extras his dad had been giving him when he was smaller, but he said no. Truth be told, we absolutely would have found a way get him to all those extra practices had he wanted it and asked for it, but he didn’t and we didn’t push it. We didn’t force him – forcing goes against everything I stand for. School is vital. But sports is secondary. He wanted to do other things, try other sports, heck, play hoops in the driveway after school and have a little downtime! He didn’t want to focus solely on hockey and I was content for him with that.



But what happens when you take your eye off the ball? You can slip a little. It’s the old argument: is it better to focus on one thing and do it exceptionally well, or do a few things and maybe not fully excel at one?

And maybe we can be faulted as parents because we didn’t push him harder to continue the extras to give him a better fighting chance to play at the highest level, but it just wasn’t a priority to us. He once said to me, “Mom, hockey doesn’t come easy to me. I have to work hard to play well. There is only one thing that comes easy to me, and that is school. School is easy for me.” I breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Buddy, that’s okay!! If there is anything I would want to come easy to me, it would be school. You’re lucky, school NEVER came easy to me. You’re going to grow up and become a wonderful member of this society, and I would much rather you be smart.”

Our friend said to us last year, “Why didn’t you continue giving him the extras? He’s such a great hockey player. We gave our son all the extras, but had we not, he never would have been playing at the high level he is today.”

And this is where I say common sense isn’t common. We’re all just racing to have our kids be on the AAA soccer team, or the AAA basketball or hockey team. We’re all running around, carpooling, shuffling them from here to there, some may say over-programming our kids, giving our children every opportunity for them to succeed. We all mean well. And we all do it with good hearts and the best intentions.

But here is my on the fence question of the day: WHAT IF WE JUST RAISED A HOCKEY PLAYER? OR A SOCCER PLAYER? What if we didn’t raise an exceptional one? One that is possibly giving up other things to be that AAA player? What if they just PLAYED, and not at the highest level? Can we as parents be satisfied if they just play where they play, and not apply pressure to be better? What if they have a more well-rounded life, they do other things, they have a social life? What if we don’t enroll them in all the extras? Why not a WELL-ROUNDED, lower level player, than a more stressed-out, tired, AAA player? Cuz we all know what it takes to be at the top (unless you are truly gifted)… it takes ASS-BUSTING work. It often comes at the expense of good school grades. But who are we doing it for? Are we doing it for them, or for us? Can we digest the concept that at the end of the day, school is really the only thing that matters? Because no one’s really going to the NBA or the NHL (except the very tiny minority), but they WILL have to grow up, get a job and support a family. They WILL have to excel in school. Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe school is all that matters. Maybe AAA sports is irrelevant.

Just a thought…

My younger son is a naturally, talented hockey player, but he’s not getting the extras right now either (due to all the reasons above). And that might be sad for him, because he’s at the highest level now, but that might change in the future as the other parents continue giving their kids the extras, and he will no longer be able to compete.

I don’t know and I don’t have the answers. All I know, is it takes great sacrifice to stay at the top. And I’m just not so sure I see that the sacrifice pays off in the long run. I’m just not so sure it’s worth it. It’s sports. It’s not life.

Please, please, PLEASE, tell me what you think. I’d really love to know.