In the drive to produce the next pro athlete, kids are being funnelled into competitive sports, which leads to big bills and even bigger expectations.
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It all starts so innocently: A kid joins the neighbourhood house league, shows the slightest bit of aptitude, and a coach from one of the more competitive leagues (rep, division, academy—the terminology varies depending on the sport and location) will suggest taking it to the next level. “In the house leagues, you have the five-year-olds who are rolling in the grass or picking flowers, and then you have the kids who are really into it,” says Kate Atkins*, whose son was in that latter group and plays both soccer and hockey. “He was obviously enjoying the experience, so we wanted to support that.” And from there, she says, the system has a way of sucking kids and parents in—the camps, the private lessons. “There is certainly no shortage of ex-pro athletes offering extra clinics, specialized training—speed, skating edges, flexibility, whatever you want, it’s there,” says Atkins. And, of course, none of it is free. (It can cost around $2,000 for a kid to play in a rep baseball league per season, coach Harrison notes.)