Gretzky played Lacrosse. Milian Lucic was a boxer. In fact, many of the games greatest players have participated in cross-training with other sports to compliment their winter ice hockey. For a while now hockey governing bodies such as Canada and the United States have encouraged players in the sytem (elite players at the national level aged 14 to 20) to participate in other sports as a cross-training alternative to hockey. In fact, here is the basic information right out the American Developmental Model (ADM) from USA Hockey:
Players are encouraged to play other sports to improve their physical literacy and overall athleticism by taking a mental and physical break from the rink.
The three most important reasons that hockey players should play other sports is:
- Hockey should be fun. It’s hard to have fun when all you do as an athlete is play one sport to the exclusion of all other sports or activities.
- Players need to have a break from the rink to recharge their desire to play hockey during the winter months.
- Physically playing other sports improves skills such as agility, balance, strength, flexibility, hand-eye coordination, mental toughness, grit, speed, power, and competitive fire.
Brent Sutter (former NHL player and GM of the Western Hockey League Red Deer Rebels) is very concerned about players these days focusing on only one sport. In an article on the topic he noted:
“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.”
As a final note on the topic of whether or not to cross-training with other sports to help with your hockey I will defer to the greatest player to ever strap on the blades, Wayne Gretzky, who in a National Post interview (2000) made this statement:
“If sport has a high point of the year, it must be the first week of spring.” “…When I was growing up, I used to love this time of year. It was when I put my hockey equipment away and I was absolutely ecstatic to see the end of the hockey season. One of the worst things to happen to the game, in my opinion, has been year-round hockey and, in particular, summer hockey. “All it does for kids, as far as I can tell, is keep them out of sports they should be doing in warmer weather. I could hardly wait to get my lacrosse stick out and start throwing the ball around. It didn’t matter how cold or rainy it would be, we’d be out firing the ball against walls and working on our moves as we played the lacrosse equivalent to road hockey.” “All the good hockey players seemed to play lacrosse in those days and everyone of them learned something from the game to carry over to the other – things athletes can only learn by mixing up games they play when they are young.”
As a long time coach, player and fan of the game I cannot recommend playing other sports enough as a method of improving your hockey performance. I have seen the results of players becoming more complete athletes by using other sports for cross-training, and thought it so important I put my suggestions for cross-training into my book, DRYLAND.