When we look at the top-ranked Canadian athletes in professional team sports, there’s a consistent picture that emerges. From Wayne Gretzky to Steve Nash, the vast majority of them played different sports as kids.
The latest name we can add to the list is Vincent Lecavalier, star centre and captain for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The native of Île-Bizard, Quebec, has won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay and the World Cup of Hockey with Canada, plus a dozen other player awards during a celebrated career.
Lecavalier recently starred in a new television PSA for Active for Life to promote children’s physical literacy. He spoke with Active for Life about his active childhood and how it helped him become top in his game. He also talked about his charitable work through the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation.
AFL: Can you tell us about the sports and activities you did when you were a kid? What were your first sports, and did you do different sports through the year?
As a kid, I just liked to play outside and my dad really got me involved in everything. There were a lot of kids who only played hockey, but my dad said, “In the summertime, you’re going to play different sports – you can’t just play hockey.”
I was fine with it. I wanted to play everything. I wanted to play hockey, baseball, soccer, golf. It wasn’t hockey all year round. It was doing a lot of different things and trying to get good at them.
But he was never pushing me to do anything. He was always saying, “Why don’t you try something different and maybe you’ll love it.” I played a lot of baseball and I loved it. Hockey was always my number one sport, but I liked to do different things.
AFL: You didn’t play hockey in the spring?
In spring I started baseball, and I played baseball from age five until I was 14. I also played soccer for two or three years in the city league during the summer, and I also played a little bit of golf.
There were a couple of years when I played in a couple of summer hockey tournaments, but there are some kids where it’s just all year round. I think it’s too much. I think kids get burned out when they play too much hockey during the year.
AFL: That’s interesting considering there are many parents who have their kids playing hockey 12 months of the year, thinking they will produce the next Vincent Lecavalier.
You can’t put pressure on kids. You have to let them have fun. I’m sure there are a lot of kids who just love to play hockey, but at the same time it’s important to do other things and learn other skills.
If you just do one thing all year round, four or five days a week, and you’ve been pushed too much, maybe you’ll lose interest when you’re 14 or 15 years old. When you try different things and discover what you love to do, you’ll probably love it for the rest of your life.
AFL: What other kinds of activities did you do as a child? Did you play a lot with your brother and sister?
When we were kids, we were always outside playing together. My dad would let us play video games on the weekend for maybe an hour when it was raining, but we had to go outside if it was a nice day out. He wanted us to be outside and be active.
He didn’t really like it when we were inside the house too much. Some kids play video games all day, but it wasn’t like that at our house.
That’s something I’m going to do with my kids. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in computers, and the next thing you know you don’t like to do any activities. It would be easy to let my kids watch TV, but I would rather that they be active.
AFL: You have two small children already and a third on the way. What do you do to make sure they are developing their physical literacy?
I try to build their physical skills and keep it fun. It could be throwing a ball or just about anything, but I try to play around with them so they get used to it and they get better at it. My son is still small, but he has a little hockey stick and he loves it. My daughter is just two and a half, but we’re going skating this afternoon.
AFL: Do you think playing different sports helps children to succeed in sport and in life?
I think if you’re active, and you work hard in your sport, then I think you will work hard in life.
If you sit in front of TV and you don’t want to do anything all day, then you will get to your job one day and you’ll probably not want to work. You’ll just want to sit in front of your TV.
If you work hard at what you love early on, I think it’s going to help you in your life. It doesn’t just develop the physical. It brings determination. And when you have that in sport, you have that with other things that you do in life.
AFL: You obviously care about kids and children’s health. Could you tell us a bit about your work with children in the Tampa Bay area?
We started the Vincent Lecavalier Foundation seven years ago, and we began working with All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg by making a pledge to build the new Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Patients and parents who have to come in for a week, two weeks or a month can be more comfortable staying there. Sometimes they need to be there for several days, so it’s nice for families to be able to stay together as a family and be as comfortable as possible.
We went with All Children’s Hospital because I liked what they were doing. I loved their vision, and I wanted to help them out. Our foundation has grown a lot in seven years, so now we’re talking about giving to other causes around Tampa.
AFL: Do you ever imagine yourself coaching your own kids? Can you see yourself as a dad coaching a team?
It’s funny you say that because I was just at the arena and I met one of my old teammates who was coaching his son. That could be something I would like to do. Being there close with my kids and coaching a hockey team. My son’s still very small, but he loves playing mini hockey. If he does decide to play, then I would like to be involved. I think with all of the years I’ve been playing, I know a little bit about hockey! [laughter]