The opportunities for growth and development are tremendous when children play organized sports. Whether families enjoy the competition, camaraderie and travel or dream of scholarships or making the pros, there are several factors in ensuring a positive experience while playing on a rep team.

Children go through a tremendous period of growth and development, and it's important to ask team organizers and coaches about the performance objectives for players over the course of the season, says Bruce Kidd, Dean, Faculty of Physical Education and Health at the University of Toronto.

Child Development

The quality of your child's experience on a rep team depends on a large part on the people running the team and organization. Kidd suggests parents ask the following questions:

  • What are the opportunities for growth and development?
  • What are the opportunities for learning about other cultures when travelling? (If a team is going to Quebec for a tournament, will they learn about Francophone culture?)
  • How will the coach or organization monitor your child's health and wellbeing, emotional stability, and schooling?
  • Is success in school a priority for the coach? (If a child is falling behind in school, does the coach understand if the child needs to miss a practice or a game to study for a test or complete a project?)

Seeing the World

Playing on a competitive team will give children a great opportunity to explore the world. Not only will children develop their fitness, skills, team work, they will also develop as individuals and leaders within a community.

"It offers a beginning to see the world outside his or her community and socio-economic class. With travel, children can see the world, and, in turn, grow and develop," says Kidd.

Travelling with a team provides an opportunity to engage with other people from other places, says Margaret MacNeill, a professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Health at the University of Toronto. The mother of 10-year-old twin boys on rep teams recalls a favourite coach who started the season by taking his team to an out-of-province tournament. The players were introduced to another culture through various learning exercises, which included meeting people from the local community.

Play in Your Community

When deciding to try out for a competitive team, parents should put their local team first. "Don't go shopping around," says Andy Raithby, Vice President of the Canadian Intramural Recreation Association of Ontario (CIRA) and physical education teacher at Erin Centre Middle School in Mississauga.

"It's not worth the expense and time," says the father of two active children.

Look for teams that stick together, and don't allow imports. Teams with a high turnover can affect team and individual development, says MacNeill. She adds, longer driving time means children are inactive for longer periods.

Coaching and Class Division

Having good coaches can be enriching. But getting on their teams sometimes depends on having parents with the resources to pay fees and the time to chauffer. As well, parents tend to have the skills to negotiate and advocate for their children.

"In China, children are tested on their athletic ability in school. The ones with the greatest ability and interest are assigned the best coaches. However, in North America, access to the best coaches depends on your parents and background," says Bruce Kidd.

"Some of the kids who play on the rep teams aren't always the best athletes," says Margaret MacNeill. "The players are the ones from a privileged background in which parents have the money and time for all the travel."

Overscheduling Children and Finding a Balance

Some coaches are good at balancing a team schedule but overscheduling is sometimes an issue, warns MacNeill.

  • Rest is important for growing bodies. Do your kids get enough sleep?
  • With extra skating and extra shooting practice, young players can be on the ice five times a week.
  • Practices scheduled 5 or 6 AM on a weekday morning can wreak havoc on children's sleep schedules so that it takes a few days to recover.
  • Diet. Munching power bars and gulping down power drinks or caffeine-laden energy drinks before games or practices is unhealthy for children.
  • School. How do children get homework done if they're on a busy schedule?
  • Will teachers understand if a tournament starts on a Friday morning and a child may miss school?
  • If overscheduling is an issue, consider playing in a house league where there's less time commitment.

Is the kid playing for fun or for the parent?

As a parent, do a reality check on why you allow your kid to play rep? MacNeill says parents should ask themselves:

  • Are you living vicariously through your child trying to fulfill unrealized dreams on the field or ice?
  • Do you hope your child gets a big scholarship to an American college or university?
  • Are parents or coaches stripping away the fun for the children with violent behaviour at games?
  • If you look at your family's life, how much of your child's life organized by an adult?
  • Does your child have an opportunity to be a kid without being overscheduled?
  • Is there balance in your family's life?

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