By USA Hockey.com
When Ben Lovejoy began his professional hockey career, he thought about the player he wanted to be. After a successful campaign at Dartmouth College, Lovejoy, a Concord, N.H., native, expected to become the same type of player in the NHL that he was in college – a puck-moving defenseman featured on the power play.
During parts of three seasons in the American Hockey League, though, Lovejoy quickly learned his role would be a bit different than he thought. He had to adjust his game slightly. He had to become a more well-rounded defenseman to succeed in the National Hockey League.
“I thought when I got to the NHL, I was going to be kind of a skilled, puck-moving defenseman,” said Lovejoy, now a six-year NHL veteran currently playing for the Anaheim Ducks. “That’s what I always was growing up and in college. But, when it became clear that wouldn’t be my role, I had to rely on my other skills to make it in the NHL.”
Those other skills came from the athleticism he developed by playing different sports as a kid.
“The agility I developed as a defender in lacrosse was important for me to play hockey at this level,” said Lovejoy, who played two years of lacrosse at Dartmouth while also playing hockey. “Other skills I have were improved by playing soccer as a kid. I played both them all throughout my childhood when I wasn’t playing hockey.”
Young hockey players should take note and strive to become well-rounded athletes, not just hockey players. It will pay off in a number of ways down the road.
There was never any doubt which of these sports Lovejoy enjoyed the most. Hockey has always been No. 1 for him, like it is for so many boys and girls in the United States today.
But it isn’t always a good idea to focus exclusively on hockey.. So when the regular hockey season ends, and the weather starts to warm, spending a few months away from the rink helps prevent issues with burnout, and like Lovejoy said, can help make a young boy or girl a better hockey player.
“After the season, I try to take a couple weeks off,” Lovejoy said. “I end up skating once a week during the summer, but it’s important for me to get away from the game for a while.”
Even the pros take time off. Playing year-round is not the answer for anyone.
The Team Aspect
Another benefit of playing multiple sports, according to Lovejoy, is learning to be part of a team and being a good teammate. Spending time with different people and becoming a positive force on multiple teams teaches boys and girls important lessons that carry over to the hockey rink.
“It’s good for any young person to learn to be a part of a team,” Lovejoy says. “Hockey is a sport where one good player isn’t going to win you a game, so learning to trust and work with teammates is good for development. Spending time on as many teams as you can will help players learn to be good teammates.”
The Mental Break
There are a number of options for different sports in the spring and summer. Spending a little time at the rink or focusing on individual skill development and conditioning for hockey isn’t a bad thing, but playing different organized sports during these seasons helps young people become better overall athletes.
It also increases the desire to play hockey once the time comes.
“One thing that people don’t think about is that playing these other sports makes you realize how much you love hockey,” Lovejoy said. “It’s the greatest game in the world, but it’s a hard sport to play. There’s so much work that goes into the game. Spending time playing other sports makes you appreciate hockey more and gets you even more excited for the season once it comes along.”
If a kid is playing year-round, they risk burning out by January, right in the middle of the season. They won’t be as mentally engaged as they could be or should be. They won’t be having fun. They won’t be improving. Give them a break in the summer. They need it.
The Skill Benefits
The benefits of playing lacrosse are pretty apparent for hockey players. While it isn’t played on ice skates, it demands the same type of movement patterns, team play and conditioning. The frequent adjustment between straight and lateral movements improves agility for young players.
Beyond that, the simple concept of making and receiving passes, as well as shooting, aids hand-eye coordination, which is a skill even the best hockey players in the world constantly try to improve.
“Conditioning is important during the offseason,” Lovejoy says. “Spending time on the lacrosse field keeps kids moving and makes some of those skills required for hockey even stronger.”
Soccer is similarly positive for young hockey players during the offseason. The constant running up and down the field improves conditioning, while learning to handle the ball and play well positionally without it carries over to the hockey rink.
These and other types of “invasion” sports are very helpful, but baseball, golf, swimming, track-and-field and other activities all provide invaluable benefits.
For Lovejoy, and countless other NHL players, the game of hockey has always been their favorite. But playing other sports helped them achieve their dreams.