So your son or daughter has made it to the big leagues. At 15 or 16 (and sometimes even younger!), your sport team or club has put a contract in front of you to sign. This is great news! Only the best players get contracts, so this must be an awesome opportunity!
Or is it?
While contracts will vary from sport to sport and from club to club, in the sport of ice hockey in Switzerland this will generally mean a five-year contract with promises that your son or daughter will be developed, may even get free equipment (or an equipment voucher) and some may even get paid. In return, you must commit to play for this club for a 5-year term. There may even be talk of future opportunities to play pro with them, or to open doors elsewhere. There will be promises of helping your kid make it in the big leagues. All in all, it will sound like a fantastic opportunity.
But be careful – this contract may close more doors than it opens.
For example, at the age of 17 or 18, your son or daughter may have an opportunity to play in another league in another country. Unless you have this written into your contract, the Club can prevent your child from leaving by not releasing you from your contract. To get out of your contract, you will have to go through a lot of legal hassle, and you may not win. This recently happened with a few players in Switzerland who were offered amazing opportunities to play overseas, but cannot get released from their current contracts. Door closed.
Another thing to consider is playing on a varsity team at a University in the USA in the program called NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). USA universities have well developed and very high-level varsity sports. Many players coming out of these Universities will go on to play professional sport, or even go to the Olympics. Not a bad option to be able to develop in your sport AND get a university degree at the same time! In some cases, they offer full scholarships as well.
But here’s the catch. The NCAA rules are very strict. It is for AMATEUR athletes only. If you have signed a contract or received free equipment or money at any time, you are by definition, professional and you cannot play in the NCAA. Door closed.
There are alternative ‘agreements‘ you can sign with the Club, which will keep this option open, but it is unlikely the Club will tell you this.
So don’t kid yourself – this contract is not there to protect your child, it’s there to protect the Club. And understandably so. The Club is committing to developing your child. They are investing time and resources in your child, so of course, they want to protect their investment by ensuring that your child doesn’t jump ship in a few years and go play with another club.
So here is the humble advice from a sport parent. Be happy your child is good enough to be considered to play elite level sport and be offered a contract. But don’t sign any contract without understanding the consequences and asking a few very important questions:
- What is the duration?
- Can you add an exit clause in case my child wants to play in another country someday?
- Or can you add an option to the contract that allows your child to go play for a year or two in another country, and resume the contract after?
- Are there other options in case my kid gets drafted or chooses to play in another country?
- What if my child wants to consider playing in the NCAA?
And be sure to share with the Club your kid’s dreams and visions. If going to play in another country is something you’d like to consider in the future – be clear and let the Club know. By being honest and clear, things will go better for you child’s future.
For most kids, this will never be an issue. But like all legal matters, be sure you know all the facts in advance and ask questions. You as parents are the only ones who have your child’s best interest at heart!