Athletes and the Arts


My eldest son will be missing hockey practice tonight for his 5th grade Holiday Choral Concert.

Somewhere, some crusty old coach just had a heart attack reading that.

Yes, it’s that time of the year when parents and grandparents and siblings slog through the slush to go see a stack of boys and girls in wide-ranging attempts to look presentable warble out a few holiday classics and at least one “modern” interpretation just for giggles.

On these December evenings that bruising D-man trades in his elbow pads for a cello bow and the girl with the ankle-breaking cross-over takes off her high-tops and puts on her tap shoes.  And this is a good thing.

Tickling the ivories at the Family Dog in Orono

Tickling the ivories at the Family Dog in Orono

Much has been done of late to reduce the specialization of young athletes with numerous studies showing the benefits of playing more than one sport.  Much more can be done to ensure that balance is maintained between athletics, academics and the arts.  Singing, dancing, drawing, writing, painting, acting and playing an instrument – all of these pursuits should be supported with just as much enthusiasm as a 200 meter butterfly.

It’s difficult sometimes, I know and I’m in the arts.  I write plays and short stories and the occasional book.  I draw and paint – though not as much as I should.  I suck at music but I like going to concerts and art galleries and avant guarde performance pieces but watching my kid pick his nose while mumbling out, “Silent Night” and just hoping he doesn’t eat the thing (he didn’t) does not quite hit the same level of excitement as seeing him coming around the far turn to take bronze in the 1500.

If it helps, think of it these benefits the arts can bring to your child’s athletic career:

Singing:  What better way to train young vocal cords to yell “I got it!”, “Screen!”, or “Omaha!” than vocal lessons.  Also helps with breathing and posture.

Dancing: Former All-Pro receiver for the Chicago Bears, Willie Gault, used to do ballet and Steph Curry could probably bust out a mean box step (and then drain a three from six hundred feet away) if he wanted to.  Dancing also helps with footwork, balance, timing and getting on the jumbo-tron at a Bruins game.

Writing: Face it, your kid is going pro and they better be able to sign their name 1,000 times an hour for all of their adoring fans.  Practice, practice, practice!  Oh, and they need to be able to read that mega-million dollar contract as well and be sure to get a no-trade clause!

Painting: Painting teaches spatial awareness, enhances creativity, works fine motor skills and teaches kids the proper techniques for smearing an oil based substance across a flat surface just like they’re going to do to that cross-town rival quarterback next season.

Acting: A number of former athletes  have gone into acting with various levels of success.  Acting requires the suspension of the self and ought to be required for all basketball floppers, soccer biters, and P.K. Subban.

Musical Instruments:  Actually, playing an instrument may be one of the most beneficial activities in relation to certain athletic moves. This according to a report on

Ted Monnich, a former minor-pro goalie and goaltending coach who is working on a Ph.D. in sports psychology at the University of North Carolina, began tracking the links between guitars and goalies in 2003 after noticing his increased glove-hand agility and performance after practicing the guitar.

Monnich states: “The neural pathways for playing guitar are the same as they are for making a glove save. So when a goalie learns, practices and plays a song by ear on a guitar, he stimulates the same right-hemisphere area of the brain that memorizes the skills used in goaltending. By stimulating the right hemisphere, the same neural pathways used to make a glove or blocker save are engaged.”

To that end, Augi enjoys drawing, dancing and random acts of piano playing which has led to improved focus on the ice (maybe).  Meanwhile Zane began playing the viola and the ukulele this year and, coincidence or not, his glove hand has improved dramatically.  Okay, some of my coaching techniques may get over the top at times but it’s for the greater good.  If Henrik Lundqvist is playing guitar, Zane’s playing guitar damn it!

Check out this video for viola coaching techniques.

Let’s us rejoice then during these festive times and embrace our kids artistic sides.  Take away that hockey stick for an hour and give them a paint brush.  Put down that basketball for a minute and teach them some of your old break dancing moves.  Let them play, let them play, let them play!


Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.