Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Becoming a one-sport child
I’m glad I’m not a parent having to decide whether to move my son or daughter to Glenlawn Collegiate next fall so they can train daily year-round with the Manitoba Soccer Association’s regional training centre.
My story in today’s paper tells you how 48 best-of-the-best youth soccer players in grades 9 to 12 will join a new training program in September, to develop candidates for Canada’s national soccer teams.
They’ll train each morning at 8 a.m. for two hours in the new indoor soccer complex at UM, then be bused to Glenlawn. Weather permitting, they’ll train some mornings at the terrific Memorial West pitch next door to Glenlawn on Fermor Boulevard.
The MSA won’t actually be making the formal announcement until early April. It’s not clear yet what will happen if a student-athlete is OK with the daily training but doesn’t want to leave his or her high school.
It’s not realistic to think that all 48 will make one of our national teams, whether U-17, U-20, or senior, or that all 48 would eventually earn scholarships to U.S. universities, though it’s logical that this type of training would certainly increase their chances and the number from Manitoba making it. These kids are already getting intensive training on their club and provincial soccer teams.
The MSA points out that these kids are multi-sports athletes and strong academically.
The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association is drawing up a new policy that would bar the students from playing on Glenlawn’s varsity soccer teams, on the basis that they’ll be enrolled in a sport-specific elite academy. High school soccer is a relatively minor five-weeks-or-so competition usually dominated by high schools which have the most premier players in any given year.
But they’ll still be eligible to play varsity in all the other sports, as any student would, if they have the time, says the MHSAA.
If they have the time.
If they can somehow squeeze in time, Glenlawn could have even stronger powerhouses than usual in other sports, given the infusion of so many top athletes, and kids who live in the Glenlawn catchment area could get bumped from teams. And these soccer players’ current high schools will lose some of their top students and top players in a wide variety of sports. Multi-sports athletes, though, generally play one sport at a time, but we’re talking now about a sport whose season is daily and never ends.
It’s a tough call for parents, to decide when their kids will concentrate on one sport to the likely exclusion of others.
We have friends whose child reached international levels in a sport, is now on an NCAA scholarship, but who pretty well had to give up regular participation in school sports.
Maybe someone out there can tell me if people such as Jonathan Toews, Jennifer Botterill, Cindy Klassen, and Todd MacCulloch were able to play all kinds of other varsity sports in high school.
Every year there are parents wrestling with hockey decisions. Only a handful of the boys and young men who go off to ride the buses in the Western Hockey League ever turn pro. The MHSAA says that some WHL players run high school track after the hockey season ends, but hockey precludes all other high school sports.
Both our kids played competitive soccer, played alongside one or two who went to the national training camps and played on the national teams, and we know a few kids who got scholarships in the States.
But even the year that our son played on the provincial soccer team, it was already becoming clear that volleyball was his best game. I can’t imagine having to make the decision to give up volleyball or another sport to concentrate on soccer. And even though both our kids are university varsity volleyball players, I would have been loath to have them give up soccer, cross country, badminton, and in our son’s case basketball, to concentrate exclusively on volleyball.
Though what would we have done, had he been six-foot-seven and someone dangled a full ride to Stanford under his nose, on condition his life revolve around volleyball?
And there’d earlier been people who said that our son could be a top middle-distance runner, but he’d have to give up team sports and train track full-time.
I remember coaching my son in soccer when he was 11 and 12 or so, and we were losing good soccer players each year to summer hockey. That would be the class of 1988, Jonathan Toews’ class, and I don’t hear those other hockey-heavy kids’ names these days. Maybe they’re happy with their decisions, maybe not.
MHSAA executive director Morris Glimcher says that Glenlawn and the MSA won’t be the last elite sports academy here.
There’s a similar soccer academy at a high school in Quebec, and Basketball Canada has a high school elite academy in Hamilton. Hard to believe a Toronto high school wouldn’t try a basketball academy, given the story in the Globe and Mail a few days ago about so many Toronto high school basketball players moving to basketball academies in U.S. high schools.
Balmoral Hall School already has two tiers of girls’ hockey, both a regular high school team and an elite program which competes in the U.S.
We’re as strong in volleyball here as Ontario is in basketball. How long before Volleyball Canada looks at pulling the top volleyball players in grades 9 to 12 together at one Winnipeg high school? And then what happens to the high school volleyball programs with the best players all at one school?
I know that anyone who wants to excel in one sport needs to practice every day. I’m sure the rinks and pools are full of kids before dawn. Some student-athletes will scoff that the MSA players at Glenlawn won’t be on the pitch until 8 a.m., the time some skaters have long since come off the ice or swimmers out of the pool.
Nor should anyone shrug off the implications of going to a new high school that’s likely far from your neighbourhood. Those can be profound academic and social implications, leaving behind your friends and familiar surroundings.
I’m so glad we don’t have to make this decision.
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About Nick Martin
Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.
He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.
Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.
Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.
Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.
Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.
Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.
A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.
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