Playing other sports helps hockey players improve
Posted by Dean Holden at January 19th, 2014
by Mark Janzen, Hockey Alberta Magazine 2013-2014
Recently, two Western Hockey League general managers – Scott Bonner of the Vancouver Giants and Brent Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels – have aired their anxiety about the state of hockey and the current era of uber-specialization.
They believe the relatively new idea of a one-sport focus is a detriment to the game.
“It’s good for guys to get away from the game,” Bonner said. “Last year, some of our guys were playing basketball and it was shocking how bad some of them were. We’re in an era in which hockey players are becoming one-dimensional at a young age. I think society is at risk of losing a generation of quality all-around athletes and it’s a dangerous precedent.”
In a story written in the Edmonton Journal in early 2013, Sutter made his position on the matter clear.
“You just don’t have as many players today that are as good athletes as they used to be,” Sutter told the Edmonton Journal. “Too much today, especially in young players, is focused on hockey 12 months a year. They don’t play soccer, they don’t play baseball or tennis or the other things that people used to do.”
“It is so noticeable on a hockey team that the kids who have played other sports and experienced different things are always the smarter players on your team, and they are able to handle adversity better.”
PROOF THAT MULTI-SPORT ATHLETES CAN THRIVE IN HOCKEY
There are few teams in the WHL that can rival the lineage of talented stars produced by Bonner’s Giants.
For five years in particular, from 2005 to 2010, the Giants churned-out the likes of budding NHL stars Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets and, most recently, Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens.
Not surprisingly, all three have one thing in common: a sporting passion away from the rink.
As teenagers, Lucic was boxer, Kane was a soccer-playing striker and Gallagher was a baseball player.
“Hockey doesn’t become mundane,” Bonner said. “You don’t necessarily have to play (these other sports) at a high level. I would just suggest they enjoy other sports, meet other people and work to become a more well-rounded person.”
ATHLETICISM AT THE CORE OF THE ELITE HOCKEY PLAYER
If there’s one person who is most qualified to discuss the how-to of developing hockey players, it’s Peter Twist.
The founder and CEO of Twist Conditioning has coached over 700 pro athletes and mentored thousands of young players.
“Without question, the best athletes rise to the top,” Twist said. “Elite hockey requires a plethora of physical ingredients and movement strategies that are best grown and compiled from varied sport participation.”
“The body and mind would appreciate variety and, really, at an early age, you don’t know which sport a child even has the best potential to excel in, or which one best lights his fire.”
THE CORNER PIECE: MENTAL VARIETY
Dr. Douglas Smith, working with Pro Mind Sports Psychology, is a leading psychologist in Ontario who has worked with professional and elite-level athletes for the last 20 years. For Smith, life is all about striking a balance.
“Sometimes, I think we get too narrow with one sport and see it as do or die,” Smith said. “Playing different sports allows the player to stay fresh and enjoy life even when things don’t go so well with hockey.”
Recently, Smith has been working with a few elite level hockey players. This summer, he is encouraging them to get away from the rink and try something completely new. And forget even baseball or soccer. How about whitewater rafting or canoeing or kayaking?
“Let kids have fun,” Smith said. “When you get to be an adult, then you can be a professional. But even then, when (adults) haven’t learned that balance as a kid, they have major problems, which I’m dealing with a lot. And then, when they’re not playing well or their team isn’t playing well, it’s like the end of the world.”