Unchecked checking will lead to trouble

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We all love a good hockey hit. One of my favourite parts of the game is seeing a player line up his opponent perfectly and knock him into another time zone (see P.K. Subban’s hit on Brad Marchand), and I know I’m not alone.

While this rough physical play has become ingrained into hockey culture, the quantity of violent plays at the youth level has been increasing too rapidly for comfort. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of penalties for serious hits to the head doubled in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. In 2010, the GTHL added and built on rules in order to better protect the players. Now it’s having parents fill out a survey on more strict body checking rules, trying to figure out where to draw the line.

Having parental involvement is one of the best ways for any league to establish its safety rules, especially determining the appropriate age when checking should be allowed in the game. While officials of any league are involved with the children who play, it’s the parents who see more directly the effects the sport is having on their children. By giving parents a say in the safety issues, it allows for a much safer game.

There’s no question that safety precautions at young ages need to get revamped; when a team of 11-year-olds at the minor peewee AA levels sees seven concussions, obviously something is lacking. With the new regulations the GTHL is suggesting, such as banning checking in the A division and increasing the checking age to 13 instead of 11, it would more than likely help cut back on the number of young concussions. While this increase in violence isn’t just limited to the youth teams of Toronto, having the world’s largest competitive minor hockey league in the world (which contains over 40,000 young players) take a stand against this violence will help bring about change in the hockey world.

No matter how much you enjoy the checking aspect of the sport, it’s important that leagues limit the amount that younger players are allowed to hit. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that hockey leagues ban body checking for any ages younger than 16. The AAP also claims that good sportsmanship programs as well as the education of coaches, players and parents, all help reduce the number of injury and penalty rates in youth hockey.

The Canadian Paediatric Society also stresses the importance of educating coaches and trainers about body checking, along with “implementing Hockey Canada’s four-stage skill development program for body checking (body positioning, angling, stick checking and body contact) for all leagues.” The CPS also recommends banning body checking in all recreational/non-competitive men’s hockey leagues.

We have nothing to lose on protecting young players. Keeping the game safe, even if that means eliminating body checking at younger levels and less competitive leagues, is the best way to prevent serious injuries to hockey youth. Most young players will never make it to the NHL, and the last thing we need is for our next generation to be permanently injured in ways that could have easily been prevented.

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