Making Hockey Safer Means Introducing Body Contact Earlier

August 28th, 2011 by Burgundy Leave a reply »

Of course when you go months without anything interesting happening in hockey, news and stories are bound to be rough. The only thing to really talk about, as far as hockey stories go, is concussions. Unfortunately. I’ve even fallen into that trap. And not that I want Stayclassy.net to turn into a concussion blog, but after reading about Hockey Canada’s desires in this TSN article, I needed to weigh in. Again.

The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version of the link above states Hockey Canada’s desire to see more non-contact minor hockey leagues developed. I see why Hockey Canada wants this. It makes sense. I get that some kids (and/or adults) aren’t interested in rough, body contact sports. But the reality is this: you won’t ever eliminate body contact and aggressive plays from hockey, especially in competitive/top leagues around the country.

In its simplest form, I believe there are two reasons why players sustain concussions in hockey:

1.  The player making the hit does something wrong.
2.  The player getting hit does something wrong.

I’d estimate that roughly 40-50% of concussions are the fault of the player getting hit. Yes, nearly half of the time it’s the fault of the player getting hit. Too often we see players putting themselves in vulnerable positions. Even in the NHL. I don’t think the players means to do this, but they do and it’s alarming.

One of the ways I believe concussions can be reduced is by educating and preparing players for body contact at a much earlier age. When I was first introduced to body contact, I was 13 years old. That’s way too old. I’d already developed and mastered bad habits as a result of playing five-plus years of non-contact hockey. Dangerous habits, too. As we all know, hockey players are creatures of habit.

I believe body contact should be introduced at a much younger age, like 7 or 8 years old. For the most part (and yes, there are always exceptions), 7 and 8 year olds won’t do too much harm to one another. The point is to get kids in the habit of understanding dangerous areas of the rink and to shape their game properly, errr, more safely. By the time elite young players hit 15 or 16, they’ll be used to avoiding vulnerable positions and plays. At least more so than they are now.

Think of this: kids stepping into Junior (Jr. A, Jr. B etc…) or Major-Junior hockey (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) have, for the most part, only been exposed to body contact for three to five years. That’s it. That’s not a lot of time to understand how to adjust a style of play. And remember, kids are often stronger than they realize at these ages.

There will always be injuries/concussions in a contact sport such as hockey. The goal shouldn’t be to eliminate concussions – that’s simply unrealistic. Instead, the goal should be to mitigate the number of concussions sustained. Get kids playing body contact hockey earlier and this will happen.

Stay classy, (contact) minor hockey leagues.

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2 comments

  1. Mike says:

    Good article… I agree that some players need to protect themselves more, i.e. keep their head up, but the player delivering the check needs to know when to pull-up instead of exploding through players with their backs turned. The puck carrier has the right to protect the puck with his body, so if he spins away he doesn’t deserve to be blasted face first into the boards. Plus, they need to teach checking for what it was originally intended, to separate the player from the puck using shoulder or hip. Too many players now use their hands and or forearms and explode up. This isn’t football, that shouldn’t be allowed. Also the follow through with the elbow is another problem to many players practice. If they’re going to teach kids how to properly receive a hit, then they should teach them how to properly throw one with respect for one’s opponent.

  2. Burgundy says:

    Nice thoughts Mike, I agree.

    It’s funny, when I was introduced to body contact, there wasn’t very much in the way of education about either hitting or avoiding being hit. It was very much “this is how you get hit, deal with it.” No wonder we have these kinds of problems today. Hopefully minor hockey is better now than it was back in the mid-late 90s.

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