In my previous blog I discussed our Player Development Strategy, this is the second follow-up post providing additional details on how we are bringing this strategy to life – Creating Well Rounded Athletes.
Most hockey parents know the game we love can be a year round activity. Winter hockey quickly turns into spring and summer leagues, summer camps, and fall try-out prep sessions, then it all fires back up again late fall until early spring. It can be hard to find the time to squeeze in additional sports that your child can take seriously with a full-time hockey schedule 12 months a year.
To create athletes, and not just hockey players, it is critical to find opportunities for your player to participate in other sports and build skills that they may not focus on while they are on the ice. My experience as player tells me the top player on a hockey team is also a phenomenal athlete off the ice, someone that can pick up and excel at nearly any sport they take on. The concept of multi-sport athletes has been apart of the USA Hockey American Development Model for the last few years and is reinforced during nearly every coaching program they host.
There are scores of stories about how top women’s and men’s players excelled at multiple sports. There is really only one reference I will make on this subject and that is the “Great One” himself, Wayne Gretzky was a top baseball and lacrosse player growing up and also focused on tennis. He is one of the leading advocates for developing multi-sport athletes in the US and Canada.
With all the research and articles about the topic we knew it was important, but really started to see it in practice within the last year as our daughter got more serious with hockey. So how do we apply this in practice? First, we identified a complimentary sport that helps build some of the foundational skills needed in hockey. Second, we looked for a sport that utilizes skills that you do not obviously hone during hockey practices and games.
Our complimentary sport is Lacrosse for obvious reasons, you utilize a stick to try to score goals in a net. The hand-eye coordination, strength that is build in the wrists, forearms, and shoulders are major benefits to hockey. There is significant focus on endurance and running that builds a great foundation and the agility required to shoot, pass, and stick handle in small spaces is really similar to how a hockey player needs to break down the game to win battles in the corners or the front of the net.
There were hidden benefits that were not obvious to us, primarily because we didn’t know anything about lacrosse. It helps build aggressiveness with our daughter and we see this translate into games, especially when she is digging for the puck and is willing to put it on the line to win the battle. Lacrosse also relies on a player’s ability to play a heads up game and look for outlet passes and teammates, this has paid off big time for our player and I see her hockey IQ increasing because of the strategic thinking that lacrosse enables.
The sport we selected that augmented the skills that we are not obviously building in hockey is swimming. Swimming builds amazing muscles in your core, upper body, and legs. It also helps build a strong heart and lungs that enables increased endurance and stamina. Additionally, swimming helps develop a strong mind so you can continue to push yourself even when you are fatigued or something goes wrong that you hadn’t anticipated (e.g. water goes up your nose).
One final note and observation, during long stretches of hockey our daughter gets burntout, one way this has been overcome or avoided is with the introduction of other sports. Knowing she will see a different coach and group of friends, as well as different drills and games keeps her engaged across the board and prevents burnout.
We know it is hard to build multi-sport athletes as a hockey parent and there are many days where our children are running from the field, to the rink, to the pool but the short-term and long-term development is worth it. We have seen the benefits of applying this strategy pay off on the ice and off of it.
In my next blog I will discuss how we are helping our players nail the basics and develop a strong foundation.
-North Star Hockey Dad