February 06, 2006

Youth Hockey Runs Into Concerns over Checking: Bodychecking should not be allowed for hockey players under age 14 because of the risk of serious injury, according to Toronto study of 4,700 hockey injuries. "If they start young, you have all those years of childhood when concussions can be repeated," orthopedic surgeon Andrew Howard said. "That's the worrying aspect of checking injuries." A SafeHockey site voices similar concerns, while another study suggests otherwise.

posted by rcade to hockey at 08:00 AM - 17 comments

The argument in favour of early checkingóthat the kids need to learn how to do it properly at an early ageóis ridiculous. Learning proper bodychecking four years down the road won't hurt their careers. But as the article says, it's all part of the intense competitive fire of youth hockey: parents want their kids in the NHL, so pressure is put on the leagues and coaches to make the teams competitive at all costs, and the kids suffer. The Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine has recommended that checking be gradually introduced at the Bantam level of hockey (ages 14 and 15) and full bodychecking not be allowed until the 16- and 17-year-old Midget level. I wonder what the gradual introduction entails in terms of steps.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 09:17 AM on February 06, 2006

I disagree My son plays Hockey in the 9 and 10 yr old age class and they are not a loud to check but hockey is still a contact sport and sometimes it does happen. So are you saying that it is ok to tackel someone in rocket football but not to check in hockey. I think youth hockey has the right idea about checking they can't do it until the age of 11 and 12 this is when they start teaching it.

posted by jrhoek at 09:43 AM on February 06, 2006

Of course hockey will remain a contact sport, but non-checking play with an occasional collision is quite different from an environment in which checking is not only allowed, not only encouraged, but demanded. A young, still-developing body can't put up with that level of constant physicality.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 09:58 AM on February 06, 2006

I wonder what the gradual introduction entails in terms of steps. I've seen some leagues that allow checking along the boards but open ice checking is a penalty. But I guess thats just a 2 step program. I don't think checking should be allowed at that age since the majority don't have the puck handling skills to be able to keep thier head up to see someone coming and avoid the hit. I think age 15 should be the youngest checking is allowed. I remember when I was that young and invincible. I don't heal nearly as fast anymore.

posted by njsk8r20 at 10:16 AM on February 06, 2006

How about banning parents from games,and coaching teams with their own relations on them,that is unrealistic but would solve 99.9% of the problems we always had more fun on the pond than at the rink. No bloody adults...

posted by thatch at 10:18 AM on February 06, 2006

jrhoek, I risk sounding like an asshole, but I think it is my turn: You have a couple of valid points there but they are hidden by a lack of proper punctuation and spelling. Why not take a few minutes to check things over before posting your comment?

posted by Amateur at 10:28 AM on February 06, 2006

Sometimes I wonder how I made it through puberty

posted by xeddie at 10:29 AM on February 06, 2006

When I played we had checking at age 9 or 10; then they changed the rules and didn't allow it until age 13. I found the transition back to checking pretty difficult. I didn't know how to keep my head up and I didn't know how to take a check. But probably better coaching could have helped solve that problem. Now that I'm 'fully grown' I play in an adult leage where (of course) there is no checking allowed. In fact I would bet that the vast majority of hockey players in Canada, when you count in old-timers, little kids, and women, play hockey under no-checking rules. And that's still hockey (IMO). Even for young men that are going to be professional, college, or major junior players, I don't see what the rush is. Clearly there are other, more fundamental skills required to play hockey, which are probably best learned in an environment where you're not worried about getting clobbered.

posted by Amateur at 10:38 AM on February 06, 2006

Word up, DrJohn & Amateur. As someone who played in checking leagues from when I was old enough to walk on skates, I'd say there's no point in having checking until puberty. Your body makeup changes enough at that point that whatever you learn about moving another body off the puck with your own becomes pretty much irrelevant, and you'll have to learn it all over again. If coaches can teach the kids to skate and stickhandle with their heads up, and then bring in checking drills when they're 11 or 12, then they'll be well prepared to deal with bodychecks when they do come in. One other thing: if you're unfamiliar with it, come the Olympics, watch the women's hockey tournament and see how extremely physical a no-checking game can be. It ain't exactly flag football on skates.

posted by chicobangs at 10:53 AM on February 06, 2006

I'd say there's no point in having checking until puberty. As someone who was a little late in "growing up", being the smallest guy on the ice when everyone else is anxious to crush you is no fun. I dropped out of my full-contact league when I was 16. I could skate and handle the puck, but I wasn't big enough (110 lbs) to seriously check anyone. In return, because I was so light, players on the other teams were targetting me for the "big check". Players would chase me after I passed the puck (4 or 5 steps) to hit me. They said it was "finishing the check", but it was more "knock the skinny kid flying". I joined a non-contact league the next year and had a blast. There was the occassional "too-hard pinning" against the boards, but nothing like the previous season. I'd be fine if they insisted on no-checking in house leagues of all ages, but allow checking for age 14 and up for competitive leagues.

posted by grum@work at 11:14 AM on February 06, 2006

For the young kids, youth hockey should be about getting comfortable on the skates, learning to stickhandle, pass, etc., and learning to play with regards to the other rules of the game. The last thing they need to worry about is some big kid crashing into a smaller, weaker kid who has his head down on the boards and that kid gets seriously injured. In many areas (not ALL, so don't get defensive) the physical play, penalties, and unsportsmanlike conduct, especially around the net, is out of control, mainly due to a combination of coaching and officials who don't know what they're doing and don't have control of the game.

posted by dyams at 11:21 AM on February 06, 2006

I used to think that this was counter-intuitive thinking: you need to learn how to check in order to learn how to both check without injuring yourself and in order to learn how to get hit. But that's the real counter-intuitive thinking. You need not be busted the hell up at a young age to learn. Hitting is also not rocket science - after a couple good ones you figure out where to be and what to watch for. I'm all for putting restrictions in place.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:22 AM on February 06, 2006

grum, you're quite right about making a distinction between house leagues and competitive leagues. (I was the smallest kid on every team I was on well into high school myself.) But if anyone's taking four or five strides to hit you, well, that's charging. The refs had better be instructed to call that closely, especially in leagues where checking is new. But yeah, no-contact leagues should always be an option, especially for anyone not looking to make a career out of playing the game.

posted by chicobangs at 11:30 AM on February 06, 2006

grum: it's a shame that this happened to you in hockey because of your playing weight. I was undersized too, and probably picked on a lot, I barely weighed 130 pounds when I was a bantam, but I made up for it by playing as smart as possible. Unfortunately some away games ended in brawls because the refs would NOT enforce penalties, in which case it would just devolve into fights. More than one game I was in got called due to a bench clearing brawl (I think three did, I dunno, I got in a lot of fights). Such is Southwestern Ohio hockey. I think poor officiating and a parental desire for their kid to 'kill' the other kid with a big hit are more responsible for injuries, rather than just it being allowed. Even though when I was 12, I was small compared to a lot of kids, most of them weren't co-ordinated enough to land a mid-ice hit. It was more an attitude that allowed cheap plays to happen that was dangerous. I can think of countless times when a player was seriously injured and the refs and coaches had let the game get out of control, even to the point of not enforcing the checking from behind rule. I'm sure there are similar problems in Canada, but again, it's always easier to address symptoms without the cause. And the only times I got badly hurt by checking were when I was 14 and 17, incidentally, the two times I had my head down for whatever reason I got clocked, so that rule would never have helped me. Anyways, imagine the uproar if we tried to make football no-hitting for any kids under 14. I think the distinction from house-leagues and competitive leagues could be a good way to test the no-checking idea without dicking with the game itself too mcuh. I just want to point out that the reason kids were taking 4 and 5 step runs at you grum, is that somewhere along the line, the ref, the coaches, and the parents all fucked up and nobody seemed to care. I encountered situations whenever I played in Indianapolis and half the time I played in Cinc, eastern Ohio/Virginia and Kentucky. Columbus and Cleveland generally had good refs, but godammit it still pisses me off.

posted by insomnyuk at 12:10 PM on February 06, 2006

From someone who was a baseball-only kid growing up (I posted my uninformed opinion up top mainly as an attempt to get the thread going), some of the stories here are chilling. Hopefully the trickle-down effect from the NHL's increased priority on rules enforcement will place greater emphasis on smart hockey, and render much of this debate obsolete.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:16 PM on February 06, 2006

The game isnít going to suffer if the kids can focus on skills like skating, stick handling, passing, and shooting. I have seen some of these teams play; they need to work on these fundamentals. Right now it is the smaller more skilled player who is targeted for intimidation by the other teamís usually bigger and less talented player. At the younger ages the disparity is significant. It is not uncommon for there to be 50 lbs. difference in weight. When you consider that could represent nearly 58 -56% of a 85 to 89 pound kidís weight (ave. weight for 11 and 12 year old boy), it is huge. The equivalent of a 175 pound man being hit a 273 pound man. Even in youth football they donít let kids over a certain weight run the ball or play defense. I.E. be in a position were they apply a running hit. Remember in hockey the kids are moving much faster that any kid can run, and they are being hit into a solid object. Besides, if the kid plays outside a powerhouse hockey state, MN, MA, MI, WI, the chance of them making even a junior team is so slim, what is the need for checking at the house level? Even if a kid is good enough to advance to the upper levels he is going to need to leave the state for that chance. At that point they can be taught the proper checking techniques by a higher level coach. My guess is at this point his body should be at point were it can withstand the impact of giving and receiving checks. All it takes is for the insurance companies to raise the price of coverage for checking leagues, or to offer preferential rates for those who donít. Most of them are strapped for cash and any incentive one way of the other would have significant sway with them. Money is a sure fire way to change behavior, and make all our arguments purely moot.

posted by fla3 at 03:08 PM on February 06, 2006

Being 48 years of age. And playing Ice Hockey since I was 4. I find it a little crazy to believe you should wait until 16 to check. That is usually the reason a smaller kid leaves the game. He has never been hit until then and when it happens does not know how to handle the change. simply stop the running at heads, and hitting from behind, Since when I played we did not have all of the protection we have now we respected each other. Now with all of the new equipment we feel invinceable. Look back at hockey in the 70,s you did not run people, plan and simple. Teach kids how to play a tough game the right way and you will have no problems. Get the politacal correctness out. do not ruin one hell of a sport

posted by gdritsas at 04:50 PM on February 07, 2006

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