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Peak Performance at a Glance: Combining Academics & Athletics

06/01/2015, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

Part 1 of our Peak roundtable with the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas


Sport academies are a different way for students to go to school. So different, in fact, that their attendants are referred to as student-athletes - the basic definition of their daily experience at school is altered. 

It’s a rewarding lifestyle but it can be challenging as well. 

A couple months ago we sat down with the braintrust from St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School to learn more about the perspective of teachers and administrators with regards to hockey academies such as the North Shore Winter Club’s Peak Performance academy. 

This is the first in a four part series documenting our meeting. In attendance: Kelvin Cech, Clint Thornton (NSWC Peak Performance), Cheryl Maclean (hockey parent, Ryan Maclean’s mom), Meg Maledy (academic advisor at STA), John Campbell (Principal at STA), Chris Campbell (STA Peak Performance coordinator).

Enjoy the series!


Kelvin: The first thing I wanted to talk about is the registration process. Meg, how creative do you have to be to organize schedules so the student-athletes can fit everything in?

Meg: It’s not our first year for Peak Performance, it is Ryan’s first year. 

Cheryl: This is the first year that Ryan has done, yes. 

Meg: So we’ve been in this for a few years now and we’ve had many students doing the Peak Performance, from hockey to circus to skiing to mountain biking.

Kelvin: Circus?

Meg: Yes, circus. The biggest job is Chris’ job and that’s scheduling the courses so that these kids can have the afternoon off because the timetable does an about face, a turnover halfway through the year. So what was a morning class is now an afternoon class so we try and double up those selections so students don’t miss any of their academics. Basically they lose their elective and usually a PE credit. Some students take online courses to make up for it.

Kelvin: Do you find that you’re having to rob from Peter to pay Paul in different areas?

Chris: At grade 8 for Ryan, he doesn’t do Phys Ed, he misses out on his elective. The other courses he would be taking, English, French, Science, Social, Math, he gets the six core courses. He makes up the PE credit with hockey. 

Meg: They also miss some of the social aspects of school. The lunch hour together, the after-school activities and that sort of thing. Sometimes they miss a second class because there might be two classes in the afternoon, that happens at least once a month. Almost every Thursday actually, there’s two classes after lunch so they have to make up some class time with the teacher.

Kelvin: There must be a ton of communication between administration here and the parents to make sure that they’re in the right place every day?

Cheryl: Before Ryan came to STA we communicated to make sure that he could do it and complete the courses. When the courses switched halfway through the year we made sure to communicate with the teachers affected and it’s worked really well. It’s a challenge for Ryan sometimes to make sure everything is taken care of at school and also to get to the club and on the ice on time. I make sure we communicate so that if there’s important instruction or a test, then he isn’t sacrificing anything on the academic side. He’ll be late for Peak from time to time, but that’s the concession that we had to make. 

Kelvin: John, you oversee everything. What’s the school’s philosophy behind believing that it can work? How do you convince people to come?

John: Well, number one, I don’t think we’ve set it up here to convince people to come to STA. We’ve accommodated our students in order to make their passion a possibility. The kids have to be motivated, we have to have good parent support as well. If they have that, if the parents are supporting the kids in making sure that they’re keeping up with their work, then it’s easy for the teachers to be flexible. Where it doesn’t work is if the ball is dropped in one area. A lot is put on the student to make up that missed work. What we have found is a lot of these student-athletes are very motivated to keep up with their work because they see things going beyond high school and they know it’s a big puzzle. It’s not like they’re coming here to grab a one way ticket to the NHL. I’ve been involved in athletics and it’s a pyramid, the higher you go there’s fewer involved. Our focus here is to make sure they’re academically prepared. 

Kelvin: So the motivation comes primarily from the students themselves?

John: The majority of the students, I’d say 99 percent of the students who’ve been in this program are very motivated. They’ve got great parent support and they’re keeping up with their work and also with the athletic programs they’re in.

Kelvin: Clint, I’m sure you could probably echo the same answer but from the athletic aspect. How do you convince players to come to the Peak Performance Program? How do you make it work?

Clint: I think it’s an opportunity for them to develop at a high performance level as well as combining their academics. What I’ve found over the years working in the hockey program, I find that having those late night practices can be such a drag on the students. They’re tired and they go to school the next day run down from hockey. It’s a combination of things that lead to more stress on their lives. With programs like Peak where they’re getting out of school at 2 or 1:30 and coming to the rink to train during the day, I feel they’re more energized. I know on the hockey side, I work with athletes where we practice at 9 o’clock at night and I’m always looking for opportunities to give them a break. Always looking for chances to give them a night off. Since our programs moved more to this format, I feel the players are more energized. They’re not suffering from burn out, they’re not lacking sleep, and they’re having more of an opportunity to regenerate themselves.


Kelvin: Cheryl, Ryan is a 14 year-old hockey player. What are some of the challenges that the kids face throughout the year?

Cheryl: It’s the time for sure. Juggling time is the key thing, their day to day lives are so busy, but enriching at the same time. Ryan wanted to do this program so he has to keep his grades up regardless of the scheduling and getting to the rink. Ryan really gets stressed out about being late for anything. So even though I’m trying to tell him I’ve already spoke to the teachers or the coaches about circumstances, he doesn’t like to show up late. The line of communication is open all the time, I felt like I was one of those parents that were probably over communicating. But I think it’s important because then it alleviates the stress on him. You’re doing your league games during the week, you could be going out to Abbotsford or Langley for a game so you have to manage your energy for that as well.

Chris: Can I ask a question? Cheryl, how Ryan does he feel about the social aspect of it here?

Cheryl: Ryan actually mentioned the social side because that was another big concern of mine with Ryan coming to the school, not being here for lunch and things like that but we can manage that so he does get to have lunch with the kids. Sometimes he prefers just to go to the club. But there’s times when he’ll say, mom I’m just going to stay with the boys today and have lunch. We try and give him the opportunity to do as many things as he can in the school. For example, the “think fast” that just happened last Friday, he was really excited about that because he was able to participate. The broom ball tournament that he was in, the fund raiser for Jonathan. They went up to Grouse Mountain, they did a little broom ball fund raising. He got to do stuff like that and he has a good connection with some of the kids here because he’s at Holy Trinity and he’s met new friends, I think there’s a couple of them that went to St. Pius. So he does have his hockey friends and his school friends, but with your schedule being so busy it’s hard to make time for everything for sure.

Meg: So there’s no time on weekends for movies and things?

Cheryl: Not a lot. Because when you do get the time you’re doing your homework as well. You’re getting caught up with your work and things like that.

Meg: And fit in some family time?

Cheryl: And family time. And he does piano as well. He’s just writing his grade 7 exam.

Kelvin: Clint, what’s your life triangle you always talk about?

Clint: Academics, Family, and Hockey. Whenever I speak to parents now about hockey, you have your family and your academics, that’s half of your priorities and hockey’s underneath. It can’t just be hockey. Hockey has grown to a point where it’s become the end-all be-all for kids at such a young age and you talk about the social aspect and that, both of us have played hockey and our best friends growing up come from the hockey rink and that’s just what the sport does. It’s important to have that but I understand the other aspect too. Being in school, getting to know students there, that’s sometimes tough for a hockey player.

Kelvin: We both leave at noon on Christmas Day to go to Calgary for a tournament every year and our families have to accept it so we’ve gotten very good at communicating our priorities and whatnot and spending time when we have the time. 

Meg: I find as the students get older the academics become their priority because they’re looking at university options. When they get to grade eleven and twelve a lot of the kids drop out of Peak Performance because of the rigours of the academics to get into university. Do you find that too, that the older students drop out?

Clint: I think it depends on the level of hockey they’re playing. I do think that if you’re not at what I would call the elite level, they do drop and I find that players that start playing at the elite level, it’s tough for them to manage because the academics do become more important because many of them are looking at scholarship opportunities and moving on to NCAA schools. Part of our program with the Major Midget team is the communication with schools down in the Boston area. That's why I like programs like Peak Performance, which is what we moved to with our Major Midget team because it allows them to have their nights off - once they get home from the rink, they’re doing homework.

Meg: If they’re at that elite level they need to focus to be able to manage the academics if they’re going on sports scholarships so they learn to keep their grades up at the university level.

Clint: Yeah, and it’s tough because what we saw this year is it’s the social aspect that suffers. Some students, they’re trying to combine sports at that level of play and their academics, it’s the Friday night get-together with friends that suffers. It’s tough, they’re still 15, 16, 17 year-old kids and they want to have those connections with their friends but that’s generally the part that gets lost.

Kelvin: That’s the sacrifice they’ve chosen to make for hockey. 

John: Like any of the programs here, kids want to do it all but there’s still only 24 hours in a day. I’m involved with the basketball program here and when basketball season comes around, now your expectation to commit to the team is here and we’re expecting you to keep your marks up, so it is their social time that gets lost. And that’s the trade off, if these kids want to take these programs, there is a commitment that they have to make if they’re going to be successful. They have to be efficient. And without dropping the most important things, family and academics, because ultimately that’s what’s going to be there at the end of the day if their hockey career doesn’t pan out.

Kelvin: The higher the commitment level you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it in the long run. 

John: And that’s in anything you do.

photo credit: Classroom via photopin (license)

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