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 2003-04 Heads Up Archive
 CHILD'S PLAY - Body checking at a young age.
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Posted - 01/11/2004 :  13:56:19  Show Profile
Contributed by: Zach Greenlee

The American Academy of Pediatrics classifies hockey as a “collision sport.” That’s news to you I’m sure. But according to the Center for Disease Control “hockey is the second leading cause of winter sports injury among children.” Most of these injuries come from body checking.

Throughout the U.S. and most of Canada, body checking in children through amateur leagues is almost completely forbidden. Per the rules of the NHL a body check is when a hockey player bumps or slams into an opponent with either his hip or shoulder to block his progress or throw him off-balance. This is only allowed against an opponent in control of the puck or against the last player to control it. In other words, it is an intentional action, not an accidental one. So why is there still so much body checking in the children’s leagues?

The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh states, “one study of 9 to 15-year old hockey players found that body checking caused 86 percent of all injuries during games.” These injuries included sprains, bruises, fractures, facial cuts and head injuries – including concussions. While properly worn safety equipment greatly lessens the risk of such injuries, even when it is worn (which is required in most if not all youth league hockey) the injuries continue to compound.

The steps we have taken to stop this include penalizing players, requiring coaches to discipline players of their own team who repeatedly body check, and in some more lawsuit riddled leagues, players are suspended from games for such actions. Still the injuries continue.

Compared to the NHL, youth hockey players seem to wear a great deal more equipment. They wear full face shields and they seem to be armored to the teeth like modern day mini-knights. The equipment made for youths is often lightweight and more flexible (meant for smaller weaker bodies than the NHL) this may help the youth players move and play easier, but this more flimsy equipment really doesn’t offer the same level of protection.

Growing up in a medium size family with a medium size income from a mid-level firefighter father, the nice expensive equipment was something I read about in the Great Skate catalogues. The only kids that I knew that had the really nice equipment were the players from the up-town teams with the wealthy parents. In most cases, however, just paying the dues for the leagues are expensive enough. Most families could only afford the middle of the road equipment, really not knowing that it wasn’t adequate protection.

With so many lines of and brands of equipment, and no way to know if the gear was any good, how are parents to know if they are actually protecting their children or just giving them a false sense of security? There is no rating for knee and shin guards like the HECC certification for helmets. I had my bone bruised through a shin guard, which ultimately led to surgery when I was 16. I had no way of knowing if that gear was any good at all except to compare the price to the “top of the line” pads. Even then, when I had “top of the line” skates, my foot was broken by a slash. I later went out and found cheaper but more protective skates.

The NHLPA should have a vested interest in this issue as well. Every time a piece of gear fails them, the potential for serious injury increases. Serious injury to an NHL player means no ice time. No ice time, in most situations, means no paycheck. If the NHLPA lobbied for some sort of regulatory commission to rate the safety of other pieces of gear, it would be logical that not only youth leagues follow suit, but that other professional sports leagues and player associations adopt similar rules.

This is just half of the problem though. The other part is the youth players’ attitudes about the game. Some approach the game like any other sport and just want to play the game and have fun, while others (which can actually be translated as “most”) play for fun and to emulate the heroes they see kicking the crap out of each other on television. What kids don’t realize is that these players are amazingly skilled, strong, physically superior athletes who can take a beating and keep on playing. What kid is going to take the butt end of a stick to the eye, run back to the locker room, get stitches then come back out ten or fifteen minutes later to play with an eye that is swollen shut and sutured?

Kids need to be taught the importance of playing safe at a young age. I’ve seen commercials from a few NHL teams’ players talking about how important sportsmanship, safety and proper equipment is. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but with tough guy hockey dads who revel in their kids “toughness” when they get hurt then get up and play on their injury, the lesson is lost. Playing hockey on a broken foot can cause permanent damage, even as a teenager. I know because it happened to me.

As children grow into teenagers and teenagers into young adults, our bone structure is continually developing. Bones are growing everyday, some are changing shape, some are coming together some are still building a layer of protective cartilage. An injury as a kid or teenager will be taken very seriously by any doctor and should be taken very seriously by parents, even the tough guy hockey dads. If you want your kids to play big boy hockey some day, they need to take care of their bodies today.

Following are some tips on hockey safety for parents and players alike from the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Make sure your child wears safety gear at all times when playing or practicing. Equipment should fit properly and allow freedom of movement.
  • Check safety gear and equipment regularly for wear and tear, and to ensure it is in good condition.

  • Purchase a foam-lined helmet specially designed for ice hockey. Never buy a used helmet. Replace a helmet if it has sustained significant blows.

  • The helmet should fit snugly. Check the chinstrap snaps frequently.

  • A full face mask can protect your child’s face and eyes. Plastic visors should be checked for scratches or cracks. Wire face protectors should be solid, with no broken wires.

  • Insist your child use a mouth guard. They can be specially molded for your child.

  • Shoulder, chest, elbow, leg, knee and shin pads, as well as padded gloves, should be worn. Groin protection is advised.

  • Ice skates should fit your child and provide ankle protection. Ice skates that are too large – or too small – can be dangerous.

  • Remember the “chin rule ” when buying a hockey stick. With ice skates on and the stick resting on the end of its blade, the butt of the stick should come to three inches below your child’s chin.

  • Goalies need special protective gear to stop high-speed slap shots. Make sure the gear your child wears is correct for his or her position on the team.

Playing the game
  • Teach your child good sportsmanship. It has been shown to reduce injury and penalty rates.

  • Children should warm up before playing.

  • Before the start of a game or practice session, check the ice, goal net and arena for damage or hazards.

  • It is important that your child learn and practice how to fall properly.

  • Teach your child: “Heads up! Don’t Duck!” Players who duck their heads in collisions are more likely to sustain spinal cord injuries. Players should learn to protect themselves by making board contact with anything other than their heads.

  • A “Heads Up Hockey” brochure featuring tips to avoid spinal cord injuries is available from USA Hockey. Call (800) 495-USAH.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends body checking should not be allowed for children age 15 or younger.

  • Children should not play through pain. Seek medical evaluation for any injuries.

  • Encourage children to take plenty of rest breaks and to stop when they get tired.

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Top Prospect

14 Posts

Posted - 01/12/2004 :  16:04:39  Show Profile
I tend to disagree with you. Most of the injuries that occur are due to illegal contact or stick infractions. Hitting from behind, and hits to the head are big culprits. Hockey is a contact sport. You can't have pop-warner football players play 2 hand touch until they are 17. The problem is that when kids become checking age, there is not enough instruction on how to play with contact and check cleanly and properly. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that kids under 10 or 12 need to play with contact, and I also feel that being able to play contact after that age requires a certain higher amount of skill. Kids who are not skilled enough to be playing at that level should not put those in those situations by coaches and parents.
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Top Prospect

49 Posts

Posted - 01/13/2004 :  06:44:22  Show Profile

I agree that this has a lot to do with developing skill. When I was playing bantams and midgets checking was only allowed in certain tournaments but never in league play.

When I was a teen I thought that this was pretty stupid, but the league had good reason since, it is pretty much a given that the players in the tourney are better skilled and a notch above the rookie new-to-the-LEAGUE who still hasn't broken his first stick.

As far as checking being a leading cause of injury, I'l have to double check, but I believe the study was conducted by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburg in co-operation with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This study is the reason that you have probably noticed that squirt through midget leagues throughout the US are going the no-checking route.

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