Overly ambitious parents in youth sports

November 23, 2014


By Robert Mazzarolo – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In early November, Chief Justice Chris Hinkson, of the British Columbia Supreme Court, issued a restraining order against a mother of three. While restraining orders are not uncommon, this one was. The mother was ordered to stop contacting coaches and officials of the National Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and Kootenay Ice Hockey League, in which her two older sons were involved. The mother was sending hundreds of e-mails to her sons’ coaches and officials, outlining her disapproval with their handling of the boys in their hockey activities. Undoubtedly, this mother believed her sons were the next Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews of hockey, but no one else could see it.

Those of us who have experienced coaching, managing, or just being involved in youth athletics, can recall horror stories of parents who believed their child was the next Great One, if only their coach would realize it. I understand parents wanting their child to be treated equally by their coach. I even understand overly competitive parents pushing their children to achieve more. However what I do not understand is a parent believing as fact that their kid is going to be a star in professional sport. The odds are stacked against them.

Here’s why.

The two most popular team sports in Canada for youth athletes are hockey and soccer. Both sports have professional leagues in North America and in other countries around the world. Both have a well-defined pathway and structure, designed to assist young athletes who wish, presumably along with their parent’s wishes, to make it professionally in that sport. In the following analysis I will be making assumptions in order to simplify matters. However, all assumptions will benefit the young Canadian becoming a professional athlete in that sport. This analysis will only focus on young male athletes, as this data is more accessible and their opportunities in these sports are more lucrative.

First, let’s analyze hockey. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 roughly 537,000 males, aged 17 and younger, were registered in minor hockey across Canada. The NHL consists of 30 franchises across North America. Assuming each franchise has a roster of 23 players and all roster spots are available for Canadians only (notwithstanding that the actual number of Canadians in the NHL is just over half of the total), there are a total of 690 roster spots available in the NHL. Taking the total roster spots available in the NHL (690), dividing it by the total number of registered male youth minor hockey players in Canada for 2012 (537,000), and then multiplying that number by 100 to get a percentage, your result is 0.128%. For each parent who believes their son is going to the NHL, the odds of that happening are 0.128%. Barely over one tenth of one percent!

Second, we’ll look at soccer. According to the Canadian Soccer Association, there are approximately 850,000 registered soccer players in Canada. 58% of players are male. The professional league in North America is Major League Soccer (MLS), which as of 2014 had 19 franchises. Let us assume that each franchise has 30 roster spots available and once again, they are reserved for Canadians only. Therefore, there are a total of 570 roster spots available in MLS. Using the same formula as we used for hockey (570 divided by 425,000 times 100), the result is 0.134%. As with hockey, each registered male soccer player in Canada has less than a 1% chance of playing professionally in MLS, let alone playing professionally in Europe or South America.

Truly, these numbers are astoundingly low and represent long odds for any young athlete hoping to be a professional athlete in either hockey or soccer. This even includes the key assumption of all roster spots are available only to Canadians which is clearly not the case here. If this assumption were removed, the odds fall dramatically. It is a wonder why any parent believes their son will become a professional athlete, especially in hockey or soccer. My message to all parents who have kids involved in sports is this: Relax, take a step back, and enjoy the excitement of your son and/or daughter competing, having fun, and learning invaluable life lessons while they participate in sports. They almost certainly will not become a professional athlete. Very little you do will change the odds of that happening and we certainly do not need any more restraining orders in sports.


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