Looking back (Cough, cough almost 25 years ago), I wish I'd known about the benefits of tennis during my hockey career. I played 4 seasons of pro hockey and 3 seasons of university hockey and could have really benefitted from using tennis as a cross training sport in the summer.
The benefits of tennis for hockey players are undeniable. It increases your mental and physical prowess.
See below for a guide outlining why I think hockey players should take a break from their sport in the summer and try playing tennis to improve their skillset.
Some of the greatest hockey players alive have played multiple sports. Most of them use tennis to improve their hockey skills. Athletes like Henrik Lundqvist and Sidney Crosby have mentioned the role that tennis played in their hockey development.
There's a reason that Sid the Kid has dekes and dangles that are unrivaled in the rest of the National Hockey League: he played tennis!
Tennis helps improve your hand-eye coordination.
Hand-eye coordination involves a three-step process:
Believe me, the hand-eye coordination that you learn with tennis will help you improve in hockey, regardless of your position.
Playing tennis also helps you quicken your reaction time. Just like hand-eye coordination, reaction time is all about using the eyes to assess the situation then having the brain instruct the body. The only way you'll improve these two traits is through repetition, and tennis can offer you that!
Tennis and hockey are unlike many sports in that they require constant side-to-side movement.
This is apparent in the power that you need to skate. It requires your calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, core, and shins to all work like a well-oiled machine.
In tennis, the constant shifting and sprinting will activate all six of these muscle groups, prepping you for hockey season. For one-sport athletes like myself, it takes longer to build up those key muscles.
You'll also learn proper footwork and technique. Great footwork can ensure that you have no wasted movements, regardless of what sport you're playing.
Tennis can also help you get into the best shape of your life. In fact, studies have shown that tennis is one of the fittest sports in the world. It's commonly associated with the likes of boxing and skiing in that category.
One season of tennis and you'll come back to the rink with your coaches taking a second glance. They'll be impressed with your strength and conditioning. It will give you more muscle definition and core stability as well.
If there's one thing I learned from my time as a pro hockey player, it's this: the mental side of hockey is just as important as the physical side. Perhaps even more so.
Tennis can help give you the change of pace you need to increase your mental tenacity. By getting involved in an individual sport, you'll be forced to troubleshoot and find solutions on your own. You'll take on more responsibility as an athlete.
That mental toughness can help you when you get back to hockey, which is a team sport. You'll become a better leader both on and off the ice.
Tennis can also help improve your concentration. Tennis is all about the details such as watching every swing through, looking at where your opponent is standing, observing the court at all times, and the like.
Jump on a court with us, we'll help you become a more alert and knowledgeable athlete. Your mind and your body will become one.
As important as mobility is to the modern-day athlete, very few prioritize it. Whether you're a goalie looking to stretch from post to post or a tennis player running from side to side, mobility is key.
Muscle mobility can help you improve your athletic performance through the synchronization of all your muscles. It can also help prevent serious injuries, which is a common problem for hockey players.
By playing tennis, you'll learn to prioritize mobility. The sport of tennis will naturally help make your body more flexible, as well as strengthen the muscles surrounding key joints and tendons. Man, I could have really used that during my career!
You hear hockey coaches and players talk about it all the time, acceleration and agility can take a good hockey player and turn them into a great one. Look no further than Connor McDavid for a great example of how important speed is in the game.
Tennis can help you boost your acceleration. The constant shifting and side-to-side movement will help you get more explosive with each step.
Even if you've always been the fastest skater on the teams you've played on, believe me, someone else out there is faster. You can always improve.
Tennis and hockey both require a good change of direction. Both sports require you to get in the right position fast enough so that you can have the best chance of hitting the tennis ball well, taking a slap shot, blocking a shot, etc.
One thing is for sure. When you look back at your hockey career one day, you'll notice a significant boost was provided the day you chose to pick up a tennis racket and unlock the benefits of tennis for your ice hockey game.
For those of you looking to pick up some agility and speed, be sure to check out the movement by 39 year old Roger Federer. If you can move like that on a court, that should definitely help you on the ice.
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