Robitaille: Making a Great Athlete

14-Luc Robitaille statue14-Luc Robitaille-first pitchWhen the name Luc Jean-Marie Robitaille is mentioned, L.A. Kings hockey fans have fond memories and start citing statistics. During his illustrious career (1986 to 2006), he set records that current and future players hope to break one day.

Robitaille, who now serves as president of business operations for the Kings, was an eight-time All-Star who entered the NHL Hall of Fame in 2009, and five years later joined the Hall of Fame selection committee.

In Pacific Palisades, there are numerous parents who pay for special coaching for their children and we wanted a professional’s take. The News asked Robitaille, “Can parents help make their son or daughter a professional athlete?”

“My parents were always in the stands whether it was baseball, lacrosse or hockey,” the native of Canada said, but added most importantly, “the kid has to want it.”

Growing up in Montreal, Robitaille played three sports until he was about 15. He continues to emphasize the importance of playing more than one sport.

“It’s the most important thing for kids to develop all of the muscles,” he said, noting that’s what happens naturally if youngsters plays different sports.

Robitaille cited lacrosse as a great sport for running and developing those muscles, while improving hand-eye coordination. He also played baseball, which helped improve his skills at striking the hockey puck, before dropping the sport at 16 to focus more time on hockey.

And then, Robitaille spoke about Tommy John surgery for elbow injuries in pitchers. “We’re seeing that injury in young men in their 20s because they’ve spent their whole childhood just using one set of muscles,” he said, noting that this injury used to be associated with someone in their 30s.

“The problem is, if kids are good at a sport at 10 and start doing it exclusively, they practice as much as if they are a pro. They’re not doing all the sports, they’re not developing all the muscles,” Robitaille said. “It’s scary and sad.”

At clinics, “hockey dads” will speak to Robitaille about their 8- or 9-year-olds and ask, “Does my kid have a shot?”

The highest scoring left winger in NHL history (668), asks the parent, “Is it hard to get your kid up for a 6 a.m. practice?”

If the dad says “Yes,” then Robitaille simply suggests, “Just let him play and be happy.”

It comes down to passion. When Robitaille was growing up, his dad used to be frustrated because he couldn’t get Luc out of bed, couldn’t wake him up for school.

“But anytime there was anything to do with hockey, I was up and ready to go,” Robitaille said. “That’s passion. Parents have to know it’s okay if the kid just loves the sport.”

Ultimately, “All professional players who make it, have a passion,” he said. “There are players who are good, but will not last if it was their dad who was pushing.”

He was asked about specialty coaches. “The kid has to want it,” Robitaille said. “I would ask my dad to spend money to send me to a power skating school to improve. It was my idea.”

Robitaille, who set the Kings’ all-time record for goals (551) in 2006, added: “It’s not the dad who tells his kid he has to have a coach or attend a sports camp, because if the kid goes along with it, then it becomes work and it’s not his passion.”

When Robitaille was selected by the Kings in the ninth round (171st overall) of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, hockey experts were not surprised because they felt Robitaille had poor skating ability. Of course, he then went on to play 19 seasons in the NHL, 14 with the Kings and the remaining five with the Detroit Red Wings (where he won a Stanley Cup in 2002), New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Regarding his critics, Robitaille said, “During my entire career there were those who said I wasn’t a good skater. When I was younger, I asked my dad if he thought I wasn’t a good skater, and he said ‘Well, when the puck is loose, you sure seemed like you were there first.’”

Robitaille developed a philosophy about critics. “You have a choice: You agree with them or you show them they’re wrong.” Luc chose to prove them wrong.

Since Pacific Palisades is Kings’ territory, the News wondered about the team’s early exit from the playoffs. They had finished second behind the Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific division with a season record of 48-28. But they lost in five games to the San Jose Sharks in the first round.

“We have a good core,” Robitaille said. “We just didn’t click this year. But that’s the beauty of sports, there’s always next season. We’ll reload [with free agents] and win the Cup next year.” The Kings were the Stanley Cup Champions in 2014.

Robitaille has two adult sons, who played hockey, baseball and golf as they grew up. “Today they like to play golf,” he said.

Luc Robitaille threw out the opening pitch for Pacific Palisades Baseball Association. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

A bronze statue of Luc Robitaille has been placed outside Staples Center at Star Plaza.

By SUE PASCOE,  Editor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *