When filling those after-school hours, sports programs are a great option, but even experts have trouble deciding on the best fit for their kids.
“I’m right in there … thinking about that for my own kids, ” says Chouinard from her car on the road home from Quebec where she attended a competition with young members of Toronto’s exclusive Granite Club.
Chouinard has four-year-old twins and says deciding what sports to put them into takes serious thought. At the same time, she believes there are some that are primarily important.
“It’s like, if you’re Canadian,” she says, “you kind of have to know how to skate and you kind of have to know how to swim for safety reasons.” Her own kids have been on the ice and in the water already, but she’s keeping it casual. “It really is recreational at this point,” she says. “It’s just fun for them to know some different sports. I was thinking of putting them into soccer this summer, but I think that can wait until next year.”
Chouinard says she’s still trying to get a sense of who her kids will ultimately be. “Like, do they like individual sports? Are they more team sport oriented? They did gymnastics, too, even before skating.”
In fact, Chouinard put her children into a tot-mom gymnastics program before their second birthday and certainly before she laced them into their first skates.
“It teaches them to listen to a teacher, to take instruction from someone other than their mum. And it also teaches them agility and coordination in a fun, play environment,” she explains. “In some ways, it’s very similar to if they go to play in a park, climb and slide and all that.… Plus, it’s a warm environment.”
Chouinard says keeping little ones warm is key if you want them to enjoy their early days in sports. Being cold isn’t fun and can negatively influence children, causing them to dislike various sports without giving those activities a real chance. Chouinard herself remembers her early days in an outdoor swimming pool and on the ice, and how feeling cold kept her from loving the experiences completely.
Though she became a beloved Canadian champion, Chouinard got into skating relatively late. Beginning when she was seven, she didn’t transition from recreational to competitive until she was nearly ten years old. It was her recreational instructor who noticed her talent and approached her parents to suggest that they get her a more advanced teacher, though at the time there were no guarantees.
“I was doing ballet, and I was doing swimming, and I was playing volleyball at the same time. I was very athletic,” she says. “So it’s hard to say what would have happened. I was very athletic at a young age, and I can see that in my kids, too. It’s hard to know if your kids are just athletic or if there’s something more.”
All that said, Chouinard says there are definite benefits to getting your kids on the ice early.
“I think figure skating is the best way to learn the basics of skating,” she says. “Wherever you take it — to speed skating, to hockey or to more figure skating — it is a great way to start.”
She suggests that little boys learn to skate on blades with toe picks. “It’s a little bit easier to go from figure skates to hockey skates than it is to go from hockey to figure skates,” she explains. Skating is also a good start on the road to skiing. For one thing, “it’s a lot easier to go to a rink than it is to go to a ski hill.” And the balance and stability they learn will help them on the mountain.
If it happens that your kids do have exceptional talent, desire and determination, you should feel free to test competitive waters, but Chouinard warns parents to be careful: “A coach can be replaced,” she says, “but not a parent.” Be supportive, but remember your role. “Stay a parent,” she says.