Too good to play 

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by A Sports Mom

Team dynamics are a curious thing in sports. There are instances when a team doesn’t quite click, or they can’t win a game, no matter how hard they try. Then there are times when the team, coaches, and individual skills come together to create an extraordinary season. This is the scenario unfolding for a local girls’ hockey team this year. They’ve achieved an impressive feat by not losing a single regular season game. What should be an exciting year for the team, and a great confidence builder for the girls, has been marred with an inquiry. A competitor in their league sent a request for recategorization against the house league team. This request was asking the league’s governing body to remove the team from house league play and recategorize it as a competitive team. How can they recategorize a house league team? It’s a house league. 

The team found itself in the position of having to present its case before the league’s governing body. The decision was made not to tell the kids playing on the team. Why should they be made to feel that they were doing something wrong? What would the repercussions of this be? Would the girls still be allowed to play? All questions they did not want the kids worrying about. It’s supposed to be fun, right? 

The parents and coaches all brainstormed the reasons why they thought this request for recategorization was uncalled for. The coaching staff are new to the league. All the girls, but one, are minors. Thirty percent of the players have never played hockey before. Some of the girls had tried out for the competitive team and didn’t make it. There are other house league teams in that age group that were evenly sorted based on skills, etc.. All valid reasons, but the main reason is, it’s a house league team. You cannot force a kid (or family) who doesn’t want to play competitive sports to play competitive sports.  

House league is meant to accommodate players of all skill levels. You are going to have kids who are just learning, and kids that have been playing for years. Nowhere does it state that if your child is of a certain ability, that they need to play competitive hockey. If Jayna Hefford wanted to play house league, she would have been allowed to. Studies have shown that rates of participation for girls in sports start declining as young as age 9. By their late teens, one in three girls who used to play sports have quit, compared to just one in 10 boys. There are many different reasons why this happens, with self esteem, cost, and not enough programs for their skill or ability being the main reasons. This is why having house league teams open to all is so crucial.

Competitive sports can be a huge time and financial commitment that may not be doable for some families. There are kids who do not want to play at that level. They may feel an added pressure that they don’t feel with a house league team. Maybe the child’s friends all play house league and that’s who they want to play with. Perhaps the child has health issues that prevent them from the commitment of playing competitive sports. There could be family issues that do not allow for the child to attend all practices and games.

You cannot assume that all kids have the desire, or means, to play competitive sports. Really, just a long winded way of saying what has already been said. You cannot force a kid or family who doesn’t want to play competitively to play competitively.  

Being a parent of two girls in sports, my only expectations for them are simple: 1) give it their best shot and persist when the going gets tough; 2) make friends, be the positive and inclusive teammate who uplifts and supports others; and most importantly 3) enjoy the experience, have fun! I never want sports to become an obligation for them. It should always be a choice driven by genuine interest and enthusiasm. There are so many benefits, besides the obvious physical health benefits, to participating in sports. Girls who participate in sports feel more confident, passionate, collaborative, and happy. All things we want for our daughters. Sports help cultivate the qualities that make people good leaders; 94% of executive level women report participating in sports, with 74% of them crediting their sports participation for their current success. Witnessing both my girls discover their passion is truly remarkable, which is why hearing about this request really irritated me. Why should something a child loves be in jeopardy because they are doing well? Can you be too good to play? 

The report was sent in and then the waiting began. What would happen to the season? Would they be able to play? If the request was approved, it would mean that they would not be eligible for playoffs, or for any of the tournaments that they had registered (and paid) for. They would still be able to play their regular season games, but they wouldn’t count for anything. After an agonizing wait, and much emailing back and forth, the results were finally in. The team was allowed to remain as a house league. It’s a shame when bureaucracy gets in the way of a good thing. The girls are having an amazing season, they will be entering into playoffs as the top team in Eastern Ontario, without a single regular season loss. It’s disheartening to think it almost got derailed by something like this. It’s crucial to have spaces for everyone, regardless of their skill level or commitment level. Sports should be about enjoyment and growth, not unnecessary hurdles and stress. 

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