Remember high school? Keeping up with subjects like math, social studies and chemistry was essentially your full-time job. Now imagine trying to juggle two full-time jobs at once.
That’s exactly the situation high school-aged athletes face—especially at an elite level where the training and competition schedules are necessarily demanding.
In July 2010, Canadian Sport Centre Pacific released a report suggesting high-performance athletes didn’t receive the support they needed to manage both academics and athletics.
Here’s just one example—a high school student and top-level gymnast:
“My high school is very supportive of my training schedule. But it’s still really difficult to do subjects like math, chemistry, and physics, etc., when you are required to miss up to eight weeks of classes per school year.”
Even with a very understanding and supportive school, eight weeks is no small amount of classroom time to miss.
But if we want to support young athletes, we have to find ways to help them develop school and training schedules that work for them and their sport.
Now, they will get that chance.
Starting now, some of B.C.’s high-performance athletes can do just that. Two pilot sport schools, including Kelowna’s PacificSport Okanagan, will each welcome 15 student athletes in September—thanks to a $60,000 investment from the province.
While this isn’t the first sport school in the country, this is a genuinely innovative program. Working with staff, each student ends up with a personalized learning plan, with academic and athletic goals—and appropriate schedules for both.
This is crucial. There are no cookie-cutter solutions; obviously, the training and competition schedule for alpine skiing is quite different from that for track and field.
Here’s another example, a young biathlon athlete:
“Because my sport’s competitive season goes through the end of semester one and the beginning of semester two, I cannot create an easier semester and a harder semester which would help out and this season I had to miss world youth championships partially because it happened during my three provincial exams.”
The world youth championships would be a terrible opportunity to miss, one this young athlete will probably regret for a long time.
Who knows how many possible Olympic champions B.C. and Canada have missed out on because we didn’t support them?
What these student athletes needed—and hopefully now have available—is flexible and adaptable schedules.
Ordinarily, students’ days will be split evenly between studying and training.
But when they have to be elsewhere, PacificSport student athletes will have a flexible schedule, that can make use of distance or online courses—again with a schedule individually tailored to fit their skills and needs.
Thirty students may not sound like a lot, and the hope is this pilot program will be expanded into every region of the province.
But considering this is only available for elite-level high school athletes, 30 is an impressive number.
They’ll have the opportunity to become even more impressive, representing B.C. and Canada on the international stage.
Steve Thomson is the Liberal MLA for Kelowna
-Mission and B.C.’s
operations and forests minister.