While specialization is the trend, multi-sport athletes still see many benefits, says AHAI Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare.
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – It’s become common these days for young athletes to specialize in one sport.
And yes, a single-sport player could become extraordinarily good at that sport. But it’s not a given, said AHAI Coach-in-Chief Jim Clare, and there are many benefits to being a multi-sport athlete.
“To me, the most important part of it is not necessarily what sport you play, it’s that you do something else,” Clare said. “That at 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 years old, you’re not dedicating 12 months of the year to being on the ice.”
Clare noted several benefits of playing multiple sports, starting with just getting away from the rink and giving certain muscles a rest, while at the same time using some different muscles.
Breaks also help kids avoid burnout. A kid playing hockey year-round could take its toll. Clare said parents need to step in and make sure their kids are getting some diversity and time away from the rink.
“You see these kids 6, 7, 8 years old in June and July going to Toronto for hockey tournaments,” Clare said. “And I’m like, why aren’t they playing baseball or soccer or T-ball or whatever they should be doing at that age. You shouldn’t be going to Toronto in June for a hockey tournament at that age.”
Another benefit to playing multiple sports, he said, is just experiencing a fresh environment. Kids who play on multiple teams get to hear different coaches’ voices, meet new players and friends and parents, and overall just have a change of pace.
“It’s good for kids to see other coaching and other ways of doing things, so you’re not hearing that same coach for 12 months in the hockey rink,” Clare said.
When it comes to hockey, Clare said several sports are complimentary.
“My recommendation is that in the offseason they play multiple sports, so in spring and summer they should be doing something like baseball, lacrosse, soccer — at least one other, if not two,” Clare said. “Give these kids a different perspective on sports and the importance of it.”
Lacrosse in particular is becoming a popular secondary sport for girls and boys hockey players. When Clare and his family moved to Illinois 25 years ago from the East Coast, lacrosse was only offered at a handful of high schools. Now, it’s the fastest growing sport in Illinois.
With many areas of lacrosse that crisscross with hockey, players can learn much from lacrosse and use it in the rink.
“It’s very similar strategically,” Clare said. “Instead of the puck being on the ice, the ball’s in the air in your stick. But the movements and positioning and the ability to create time and space is very similar to what you do on the hockey rink.
“You can use body contact in lacrosse, you can do the same in hockey, so they like that physical nature of it.”
One key area is spatial awareness and knowing where a player is on the field.
“It’s a little bigger space than a hockey rink, but understanding where you are positionally and spatially will help you on the ice and find those open spots to get a pass or get open or to help a teammate out.” Clare said. “I think from a body contact standpoint, getting used to body-checking as you get into that 14-, 15-year-old age where you’re doing that is helpful.”
Another important aspect is hand-eye coordination. The wrist work required in both hockey and lacrosse is identical, noted Clare. Teamwork, helping set up plays and movements on special teams — power plays and penalty kill — all translate to the ice.
Running up and down a lacrosse field is also valuable to help with endurance on the ice.
Soccer is another sport that can be a great compliment to hockey. Footwork and movement in the lower body is beneficial for hockey players. It also builds up the leg muscles.
Baseball and softball, with their hand-eye coordination, are also popular among hockey players. Clare recommends players also consider swimming.
“From an aerobics standpoint, obviously, and the muscles and the stretching and the movement of the muscles giving you a lot more fluidity in the structure of your muscles,” he said.
Whatever sport a young athlete chooses to compliment hockey is a good idea. It can only enhance a kid’s ability on the ice.
“I think having people understand that the time away from the rink is not going to set your child back, if used properly with a secondary sport or a third sport,” Clare said. “You’re going to build a better hockey player because you’re going to build a better athlete.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.