Calgary, AB - At a camp with 111 athletes, all trying to leave a lasting impression, Xavier Bernard may have an advantage. He already knows what it takes to be a national champion. In BMX, Bernard was six years old when he first tried bicycle motocross (BMX). Just three years later, the Mercier, Que., native won a Canadian title. BMX was fun, Bernard says, and kept him living in the moment. But it also taught him how to analyze challenging situations quickly, which he now applies on the ice.
“If ever something is not going well at a hockey game, I’m going to focus on me and not put any negativity on others. I’m going to focus on myself and find a solution by thinking about what I can do to help the situation,” Bernard said.
It is for of those lessons, the mental and physical acumen gained, Corey McNabb says Hockey Canada and many other recruitment groups are looking for the top overall athlete and not necessarily those who excel at one sport specifically.
McNabb is director of hockey development programs with Hockey Canada. He has been watching the athletes at Canada’s national under-17 development camp during on-ice practices and off-ice testing. The results, he says, are clear.
“It’s evident in the kids who are the athletes,” he says.
“More and more the teams at the highest levels are starting to look for the athletes because, when you have athletic ability, it’s much easier to train and develop into whatever position you might want them to play versus someone who is a non-athlete and they are very limited in what they can actually do.”
Specialization for team sports can happen as late as the mid-20s, McNabb says, while individual sports usually specialize earlier, between 14 to 17 years old. For Liam Foudy, that means he may soon have to decide how far he wants to take his track and field career.
Just a few months ago, the Toronto native set a provincial high school record for junior boys’ 300-metre hurdles. He also holds the provincial mark for midget boys’ 300-metre hurdles.
“I did track because it helped me with hockey,” Foudy says. “It kept me in shape, all the workouts, and my mom, being a track and field Olympian (France Gareau, silver medallist in the 4x100 relay at the 1984 Games), she wanted me to do it too because that’s what she liked most.”
McNabb would like to see more parents encouraging their children to playing more than one sport. He wants to help parents understand the importance of developing athletes instead of just hockey players.
“By putting your kids in multiple sports, you’re actually going to help benefit them greater in the long run versus your very small gain right now,” McNabb says.
Gains in other areas, like mental well-being, can actually come through loss. Taking time away from a sport can reignite an athlete’s passion, if it is waning.
“I enjoy the golf course, that’s kind of where you go out by yourself and it calms you down,” says Chase Wouters, who competes in junior events across Alberta during the hockey off-season.
“It kind of gets your mind thinking of other stuff, other than pure hockey. I mean it’s good to think about hockey most of the time, but it’s good to get away from it too, so you don’t over-think stuff.”
And it’s not just the BMX park, track or golf course where Canada’s U17 hopefuls are excelling. A quick look at their athletic accomplishments reveals plenty of secondary sports. Basketball, baseball, lacrosse, badminton … the list goes on.
But as much as Wouters, Foudy, Bernard and the rest of the multi-sport standouts love to play and participate in a variety of sports, they all agree on which one comes first: hockey.
“I had an exhibition hockey game and a BMX race at the same time, so I had to choose. I chose hockey because it was more for me,” Bernard remembers. “I have no regrets with the choice.”
“I dropped out of rugby last year, so I wouldn’t get hurt. It’s too violent, I didn’t want to get hurt for the hockey season,” Foudy says. “I still play soccer now, it’s good, keeps me in shape.”
McNabb uses defencemen as an example favouring multi-sport athletes and late specialization. He says it is a commonly-held belief that defencemen take longer to develop. But the best blue-liner at 18 years old may not be a top-tier talent a few years later.
“If someone has more athleticism and physical literacy in what they’re able to do, they continue to get better and better and better and then as they understand the game and get comfortable with the position, we see them surpass a lot of the kids who might have been better when they were 18 years old.”
Foudy says that’s why he plans on staying active in other sports, even if it is just at a recreational level. He wants to ensure his development remains on an upward trend.
“You don’t need to focus on one sport,” he says. “When you’re on different sports it keeps you in shape for different aspects of your game.
“The track workouts are really tough and they’ve helped me late in my hockey games, like I was really strong in the third period because I was in shape from my workouts and it helps a lot like that.”
And when the benefits of playing other sports include increased stamina, agility, mental toughness and a decrease of over-use injuries, McNabb says Hockey Canada happily encourages its athletes to participate in any other sport they enjoy, be it golf, track or BMX.
Republished from: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/news/u17-hopefuls-show-off-multi-sport-skills