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Former NHL-er Andrew Ference, right, enrolled his daughter Ava at Shawnigan Lake School for rugby.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

When 17-year-old Ava Ference heard about Shawnigan Lake School – a boarding school on Vancouver Island known for its competitive sports programming – a few years ago while playing competitive rugby in Edmonton, she knew it was the school for her.

“I found this incredible rugby school on Vancouver Island, and it just looked like heaven,” says Ms. Ference, who has now been at the school for three years and says her rugby game has improved significantly through practising with both the girls and boys teams. “But I didn’t want to just be sports first. I did a bit of research, and I found the school had the great academics I was looking for – because I still definitely was interested in my academics and wanted to go to university.”

Private schools that offer elite sports training have been on the rise in Canada over the past decade to meet the demand from young athletes and their parents. Those involved in these schools say there are a host of benefits to sending students to them, not the least of which is more elite training alongside high academic standards, and less commuting for parents.

Ms. Ference’s dad, former National Hockey League player Andrew Ference, admits he’d actually never heard of the school before his daughter mentioned it, but he was definitely impressed when he toured the 270-acre grounds and compares the location to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. “I wish there was a school like this I could have gone to when I was young,” he laughs.

The school offers an impressive list of athletics, including tennis, rowing, rugby and squash, but it wasn’t just the impressive grounds and competitive athletics that caught the former professional athlete’s attention.

Mr. Ference still works for the NHL and as part of his responsibilities he builds up youth sports programming. He says he was impressed that Shawnigan Lake School expects its students to be well-rounded. Sports are mandatory at Shawnigan, but so are courses in its fine arts department, which includes classes in improvisation, pottery, fly tying and boat making.

“I witnessed it firsthand, through many long careers of teammates of mine and myself: The more diverse the individual and the more well-rounded the individual, usually, the better they ended up; whether it was in sports, or once they retired from sports, or whether they didn’t make it in sports,” says Mr. Ference, adding that getting out of the “athlete bubble” and being introduced to other interests and ways of thinking can help build resilience.

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For the Ferences, private schools offer elite sports training. Sports-focused schools have been on the rise in Canada over the past decade to meet the demand from young athletes and their parents.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

Edge School in Calgary recently underwent a rebrand to ensure parents and students “didn’t get the wrong idea about our school,” explains Landon Wesley, the school’s director of marketing, services and events.

“People looked at us like, ‘It’s a sports school. It’s for kids to go and play sports all day.’ That’s really not what we’re about,” he says. “It’s not necessarily about a kid making it to the NHL or being in a famous dance school. We just want to have kids who leave here go on to do great things. It is really about graduating awesome humans. That’s what we want to do.”

Edge students do the majority of their training at the Duckett Performance Centre, a top-of-the line facility equipped with dance studios, sports fields, rinks, a dedicated sports therapy centre and sports psychology professionals. For the more elite, high-performance athletes, Edge offers the flex program, which allows these athletes to have a more flexible academic timetable that works around their competition schedule.

“When they are in a dance competition, when they are at a hockey tournament, our teachers are able to help them,” Mr. Wesley says. “Our coaches, when they’re on the road, facilitate study hall to make sure the kids are staying on top of their schooling.”

The opportunity for students to access specialized coaching, have a more flexible schedule and train in state-of-the art facilities are all part of why these schools attract some of Canada’s best athletes. But one of the biggest upsides of attending a sports performance school is the time it creates for families who aren’t spending their nights and weekends shuttling their kids to various practices or games, explains Johnny Winstanley, general manager at Everest Academy, located in Vaughan, Ont.

“Our students get everything that they would need as an elite athlete [including academics] done before 4 p.m. That means, for example, for a hockey player, you can get your on-ice individual training done and you can get your off-ice training, whether it’s strength and conditioning, yoga, mindful meditation, all done before 4 p.m.,” Mr. Winstanley says.

“For older students, it allows them to cover homework at night, time for family, time for part-time jobs,” he continues. “For younger kids, it allows the family to be together. The parent isn’t picking them up at 3 p.m. and driving them across the city to another session.”

As for Ms. Ference, she couldn’t be happier with her choice to attend Shawnigan Lake School.

“I always knew that I was going to move away young, like my dad did, and go play sports somewhere,” she says. “And when I found this school, it just looked like this incredible place that I knew I wanted to go to immediately.”