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Four Ways Playing Multiple Sports Can Help Your Child Become A Better Athlete

06/16/2014, 3:45pm MDT
By USA Hockey

It's exciting to watch your children excel at the sports they love. Working hard toward a personal best or perfecting a specific technique are critical to success, but let’s not forget that playing multiple sports can be tremendously beneficial in the long run.

Branching out from just one sport offers youth athletes both physical and mental benefits, from enhancing current skills, to learning to appreciate the new skills required of a different sport. Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports, in partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance, has outlined four ways playing multiple sports can help your child become a better athlete and a more well-rounded person:

1. Mental Growth: Training in new sports can help open youth athletes’ minds to new experiences and, in turn, help them become better at their preferred game. When an athlete is accustomed to playing one sport, branching out to a new one may seem scary, but the challenge of learning a new sport can prove to be rewarding. And conquering that challenge may provide even greater confidence to fuel success in the athlete’s original sport.

2. Physical Improvements: Regardless of the sport your children most enjoy playing, many skills and techniques transfer across sports and complement each other. For example, water polo and softball both involve throwing, and both call for short bursts of energy, but water polo also requires sustained energy that can add a dimension of endurance that softball does not usually demand. The physical benefits of practicing new sports allows youth athletes to build upon their skills as well as discover previously unknown talents and abilities.

3. New Experiences: Many seasoned athletes know that playing multiple sports provides a great opportunity to gain perspective on different team roles and become a more well-rounded player. For example, if your child is the star forward on her soccer team, she might find it beneficial to learn a new role on a volleyball team.

4. Avoid “Burnout”: Parents can unknowingly put a lot of pressure on their kids to specialize in a sport or become ultra-competitive. Too much pressure can cause a child to become resentful, feel overwhelmed, or “burnt out” on a sport to the point of wanting to quit that sport – and maybe even quit all sports. Encouraging your children to take a break from one sport to try another can relieve stress and help their outlook.

It might be difficult to imagine your youth athletes starting a new sport, especially when they are good at the sport they love. But the love of the game can be the very reason that  you would suggest playing other sports, particularly once you realize how playing multiple sports can benefit your children’s mental health, fitness, and overall performance as they learn and grow athletically.

At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we constantly look for ways to celebrate the countless acts of responsibility and integrity shown by people every day. We created Responsible Sports, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance, as part of this belief to help ensure that our kids experience the best that sports have to offer in environments that promote and display good sportsmanship. We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support winning on and off the field.

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Responsible Sports program, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2014 Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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Photo by: Elan Kawesch/Harvard University

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A follow-up to Ian Walsh's NHL career-path article (see Stripes - February 2015)

For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials. 

USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?

Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.  

USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season? 

Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that. 

The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.

USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?

Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.

USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official? 

Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.

USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career? 

Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.

USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?  

Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.

USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?

Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.

USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career? 

Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.

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