Families, Time Out
Don’t Take The Play Out of Playtime
MEET AARON SANDS
Dad, Husband, Banff local, and former full-time athlete. Aaron, as you’d expect from his former athlete status, is forever seeking out the next chance to hit the trail, ski run, or bike loop circuit, and get his heart racing; his love of sports and the outdoors runs through his veins.
Coming from a passionate sports family, Aaron, who grew up in Calgary from Grades 1-6, was no stranger to Banff National Park, hitting Highway 1 every weekend to spend some active family time in the mountains – summer and winter. The ski season saw Aaron dutifully ride the bus from Calgary’s Chinook Centre, to compete in races at Mt. Norquay. Outside of race days, Aaron would often be skiing with his family at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, perfecting his flair for ski. He loved the competition and the challenge of sports, and at that early age, was showing serious talent.
This natural ability for sports lead Aaron to play tennis competitively by Grade 4, and by Grade 6, he was getting ready to swing into the Nationals. Representing the Province at this level from this early age, giving Aaron a taste for professional competition, and the serious side of sports.
A family move to the Cayman Islands when Aaron was in Grade 7, meant that outside of his skill with a tennis racket, Aaron was introduced to his latest game of interest – golf. Through his teen years, Aaron pursued his commitment to both sports, golf and tennis, and – with the family now back in Canada, based out of Kelowna, B.C. – he decided to apply to U.S Universities, with his intention being to secure a Sports Scholarship. But, an unsuccessful tournament at that time unfortunately put that dream to an end. For Aaron, this was a difficult situation to accept, and this was to be the end of his professional journey with golf.
It was then a move back to the Rockies – Aaron returned to Banff for a winter season and never left – that introduced him to a different sport again, bike racing. It was mountain biking to start, and after achieving success completing 24-hour challenge races and doing well, Aaron hopped over to the seat of a road bike.
Road biking suited Aaron, and he was enjoying the challenge of taking his latest sport to the next level. Alongside some friends in Banff, Aaron was biking in a group. Together starting in Category 5, after constant practice, commitment and collection of points over time, suddenly, Aaron found himself working up to the top category.
GOING HARD WITH RACING
So now, life for Aaron – who was now also a family man, with his son Seth just one-year-old – was a racer’s life. As a full-time road biker, Aaron was training gruellingly hard. His schedule involved daily lunch rides and then specific evening rides. Aaron was committed, and from befriending a co-rider on the National team, also secured himself an expert nutritional consultant and trainer.
This was also the time that Aaron was approached by the Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation, a local non-profit organization that works to support Bow Valley athletes as they work to reach their sporting goals on the professional stage, as well as funding sports programs with community youth clubs.
The Foundation, up until this point, had been providing annual funds to primarily cross-country ski athletes at the professional level, to contribute to the costs associated with competing on the international stage. Aaron, as a Banff local pursuing bike racing, was the first non-professional athlete to be offered a place onto the Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation athlete support program, to which contributed to Aaron’s training costs.
Aaron, now with two young boys at home, openly admits that balancing this level of commitment to a sport with family life day-to-day, was tough. Today, after achieving successes within his bike racing career, Aaron has been three years away from competing – deciding that continuing racing full-time and raising a family the way he wanted to, was impossible.
“With two boys, I had to make a decision,” Aaron says. “It wasn’t possible to put my all into racing, and still be the present, engaged father I wanted to be. To stay at the top level of racing, you need to be all-in committed; constantly training. I knew I couldn’t do both, and I didn’t want to be mid or back of pack with my racing. The choice to be with my family won out.
THE SPORTING LIFE, NOW AS A FATHER
Reflecting back on his own relationship to sports, from childhood ski races to national tennis tournaments in his teens, Aaron is cautious to ensure his two boys, Seth (8), and Rory (6), adopt a healthy relationship to competition, understanding the importance of team spirit and taking part, over first places.
Now, it’s about having fun and exposing the boys to as many different sports as possible.
“When I decided to stop bike racing, it was the largest weight off my shoulders,” Aaron says, “the pressure was off, and sport was just enjoyable again.
Now, it’s about having fun and exposing the boys to as many different sports as possible. Myself and my wife had both of them on skis at two years old, and on the training wheel bikes early, and as the years went on, the golf clubs, and the tennis clubs came along. It’s how I grew up, and I want them to explore their own love of various sports. I’m just keen to not add any pressure to them, I want them to be free to just enjoy it, without them thinking they need to push to an extreme level.”
THE SCIENCE OF YOUTH SPORTS
In a TIME article published in February 2015, ‘The Key to Making Your Kid a Star Athlete: Back Off,’ author Ted Spiker explores the subject of putting a damaging amount of pressure on young ones in sports; looking at how parents and coaches can promote a healthier, more playful attitude to team games and competition.
Spiker explains that ‘many parents push for year-round specialization. Besides the risk of overuse injury, that approach also means that your child is less likely to find the sport he or she loves – and is good at,’ going on to recommend that a better strategy is, ‘encouraging your kids to experiment.’
Quoting David Epstein, author of ‘The Sports Gene’, the article continues:
“Diversification doesn’t just mean playing multiple sports, but it’s also allowing a playful environment where implicit learning happens. In today’s sports culture, we’re teaching the grammar before our kids are implicitly learning and playing with basic athletic skills. What the sports science suggests we’re doing for kids in sports, is that we’re doing it backwards,” Epstein says
THE RIDE HOME FROM PRACTICE
This issue of parental pressure after practice, is a topic that was recently explored by the True Sport Foundation, which recently launched a national campaign encouraging parents to take a closer look at the language and approach used around sports. The campaign was centred around the ride home from the game, sharing the message that to keep kids interested and engaged in sports, it’s about knowing how to talk around competition.
The ‘Ride Home’ campaign addresses the journey home as a great opportunity as a parent, to explore how their child is feeling about the game and allowing them to lead the conversation, without adding pressure or criticism.
THE PROBLEM WITH PODIUM OR NOTHING
The non-serious approach is certainly one adopted by Aaron as he raises his own young boys with a passion for sports, minus the pressure.
“From my experience, from the age of sixteen, I was pushed hard by my Dad to do well. Being one of the top [tennis] players in Alberta at the time, and then playing at the nationals, I experienced a lot of pressure from my parents. That, honestly, almost pushed me put off sports, it was one of the reasons that I almost left. So now, it’s the last thing I want to do to our boys.”
Aaron continues: “You’d be lying as a parent if you didn’t want to encourage them in sports, but it’s that fine line between showing support, encouragement and interest, and applying pressure. With youth sports, it’s now the podium or nothing, but what’s wrong with 15th or 16th place? That shouldn’t be seen as failure.”
But Aaron is keen to point out that a fun, playful approach to family activities and sports is positive for young people. “Keeping them in sports gives them self-confidence, experience of teamwork, and focus.
And for those parents, that want to embrace a more active lifestyle as a family, but don’t know where to start?
“Start off small, and make sure it’s fun for the whole family,” Aaron advises.
“Here in Banff, there are so many excellent starter trails for families to try without any difficulty at all. One of our favourite loops to bike is the Fenland Loop, or Vermillion Lakes Road. By keeping your early biking and hiking trips short and manageable, you won’t deter your little ones. For skiing, Mt. Norquay is a great place for families to start. It’s just ten minutes away from the town, and with the resort’s hourly passes, you can introduce young ones to skiing with shorter visits until they get the hang of it. That’s where I started my skiing, and it’s where my two sons learned too.”
This approach by Aaron seems to be paying off, with Aaron’s boys both taking interest in a variety of both winter and summer sports. Aaron, Seth and Rory recently took on the Rocky Mountain Triathlon together, seeing them play golf, tennis and riding their bikes all in one day – but Aaron says the keenness to get involved with these active pursuits is very much coming from the boys themselves.
“It’s them saying to me, ‘Dad, can we go and do that?’, and that’s really great.”
Aaron Sands is a former athlete of the Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation Youth Sport Fund, solely funded by the profits of Banff Lodging Co. (Caribou Properties). Aaron was actively approached by the Foundation, as a Banff local competing in road biking, to be a candidate to receive funds to cover the necessary costs of sports competitions and training supplies. Aaron received four years of support from the Youth Sport Fund, during his road bike competition career.
Mt. Norquay is a partner of the Caribou Kids Season Pass Program. Under this program, in partnership with Ski Norquay, Caribou Properties has committed to purchase a Norquay season pass for all students at both the Banff Elementary School and the Banff High School. Every student at these schools has the opportunity to receive a Norquay season pass. This is part of Caribou Properties’ belief in supporting active, healthy lifestyles.