Losing hitting not the solution to hockey’s concussion problem
Hockey Canada has decided to remove body checking from the peewee level in 2013. A new campaign is pushing for them to remove it in the bantam age level as well. QMI Agency
Hockey does have a concussion problem, but the solution is not removing contact.
There is a group of parents in Calgary angling to have bodychecking removed completely from hockey at the bantam age group, meaning bodychecking would be introduced to the 15-year-old age group. In 2013, body checking was removed from the peewee age group (11 and 12 year olds) and this past season Hockey Edmonton announced it was removing body contact from all age levels in non-provincial levels of hockey.
This is a disturbing trend.
The current campaign, led by critical injury lawyer Michael Thomas echos recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatricians, which targets the bantam age group specifically because of the wide range of physical development of the players in that age group.
As someone who has sustained six documented concussions, five from minor hockey, I understand their intentions and their heart is in the right place. But it is misguided. (Insert an I’ve taken too many hits to the head joke here)
When you look at it rationally, unless you plan to take hitting out of hockey altogether, right through the junior and pro level, all this will do is create a more dangerous situation for whatever level hitting is allowed to be introduced in.
Hitting safely is as much a skill as shooting or passing. More importantly, learning to take a hit and on ice awareness is even more important. The age of hitting, I have argued for years, should be going the other way. It should be introduced at atom (nine and 10 years old). Give them the novice and initiation levels to learn to skate, but then body checking should be taught by certified coaches.
There are many reasons for this. If we are ingraining safe habits in our kids, they should be taught as soon as possible. On a job site, they do not show you part of the safety standards you need to know when you start and then two years later show you everything else. They show you everything on Day 1 and drill it into you. In the case of hockey, the idea of skating with your head up or going into the corners in a safe manner, or even how to use the boards to your advantage to allow them to absorb the energy of a hit should be brought in as they are learning how to take a wrist shot or do a crossover.
As well, in atom hockey, while there is some variance in size, the players are all roughly the same height, they are at least far closer than in peewee and bantam. As they are learning to hit, they are at a size where it is a little more difficult to do some damage, there is not near the same amount of speed or mass being thrown around. By the time they reach peewee and specifically bantam when that size gap can become extreme, not to mention processing an influx of hormones and testosterone, you’re not throwing them a new weapon to bring to battle. By that time the novelty of body checking will have worn off.
Taking out hitting is no guarantee of eliminating concussions either. There will still be legal body contact, there will still be illegal checks thrown and fewer safe practices in place. Two of my six concussions came from playing non-contact atom hockey in Calgary in the early 90s.
There is also the competitive nature of the game to take into consideration, and if in our elite streams of hockey we are preparing the next NHLers, they need to be able to hit and play a safe, physical game.
Let’s not forget there are many kids who do enjoy the physical nature of hockey as well, this being said, I know one of the problems minor hockey is having is keeping kids in the game once bodychecking is introduced. When you introduce it at a late stage in their development when they are not used to getting hit, of course it will scare off a larger number, but when it’s there from almost the beginning, they get used to it and learn to protect themselves as second nature.
There is certainly a place for non-contact hockey at all ages. Red Deer, for example, has a successful purely recreational league called Pond Hockey.
Getting rid of all hitting to address a growing concussion issue, however, is like instituting prohibition to end drinking and driving, the problem really isn’t being addressed and more issues are going to arise.