The traveling team that ate their life |

Weekends sometimes pass in a blur for mother of three and interior designer Michelle Holtzman of Skokie. Her 11-year-old son, Andrew, plays hockey for the Skokie Flyers, a competitive team that travels throughout the Chicago area for regular-season games and as far away as Boston and Toronto for tournaments. Her daughter, Sophia, 10, is on three soccer teams and plays up to four games on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Sometimes I do wish we had more free time,” Holtzman says. “During the sports season, it’s school, homework, an early dinner and off to practice, which is driving one kid to one rink and another kid to a soccer field. Getting ice time is tough, so Andrew’s practices could be in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. We juggle a lot, and our family time is usually a goodbye kiss and a ‘See you later.’ “

Yet Holtzman says it’s all worth it when she sees her children in action. “It is such a joy to watch them play so hard at something they care so deeply about,” she says. “The minute Andrew steps onto the ice, it’s like all his worries go away.”

With the kickoff of the fall sports season, parents across the Chicago area are navigating increasingly complicated weekend schedules, thanks to the growing professionalization of youth sports. Gone are the days when elementary-school-age children could hone their skills informally on the playground, alongside others their age. These days, sports-minded kids are increasingly steered toward privately run club or travel teams (the terms are used interchangeably), which emphasize sport-specific training and interteam competition. Traditionally, clubs offered a specialized opportunity for the gifted elite: Tryouts would cull the low performers, leaving only the best of the best.

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