Every winter weekend, in the early morning hours, hockey parents drive their kids to the arena to lace skates, tug on hockey gloves, secure helmets and make sure mouth guards are in place. But this protective padding and gear may not be enough to protect your son or daughter from the checks along the boards, the tussles on the ice and the scuffles around the net. As your child gets older and graduates into pee wee and bantam leagues, this violence on the ice can translate into injuries. A 2011 study cited in the "Canadian Medical Association Journal" noted that there is a growing issue around concussion in minor league hockey and stated that 45 to 86 percent of all injuries in youth hockey in North America are related to body checking.
The Violence is Changing
The history of violence in the sport of hockey is as old as the sport itself. In fact, it’s part of the reason why fans watch it. The cheers come during the fights, the heavy checking along the boards and the emptying of the benches. To be able to be part of this NHL culture, to make the grade as a professional hockey player, your child has to be able to hold his own among this caliber of player. Robert Kirwin, talk show host of Laurentian University’s “The Learning Clinic Radio Show,” notes that although the use of strategic hockey playing is easing out the physical roughness in major league hockey, it’s only now trickling down into the minor leagues with the introduction of concussion management programs such as the ones offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Hockey and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League. These programs are developed to teach coaches and parents about the roughness of the sport, concussion, how to prevent it and how to handle the aftermath if your child is injured.
Typical Hockey Injuries
There is a list of typical hockey injuries that your aspiring young player may come up against. Concussion tops the list. As a parent, be aware that your child doesn’t need to pass out to have a concussion. The CDC defines a sports-related concussion as a “traumatic brain injury, or TBI, caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.” The CDC recommends that if, after a bump to the head or a jolt, your child is confused, slowly answers questions or is unaware of the game going on, complains of a headache or dizziness, vomits or has blurry vision, he needs to be removed from the game and taken for immediate medical attention. Other injuries common to the game are broken wrists, elbow, hip, knee, back and shoulder injuries.
The chances of your child being injured depend on a number of things. The type of protection he wears, his aggressiveness during the game and his propensity for injury, all play a role. If your child tells you he no longer wants to participate in hockey, don’t encourage him to continue. Abide by his wishes. A child may be more susceptible to injury if he doesn’t want to play. Body-checking and roughness increases as your child advances through the levels. This also increases his chances of being injured.
As with all sports, you can’t keep your child completely injury-free. There will always be pulled muscles and bruised elbows. But you can reduce the violence in hockey and keep the injuries to a minimum. Have your child seen by a doctor prior to the hockey season to develop a baseline reading. If he is hurt during a game, the doctor will be better able to determine the severity of the injury by referring to the baseline screening. Have your child participate in a preseason conditioning program to get muscles in shape for the game. Buy your child the best equipment you can afford, and make sure it fits properly. Don’t buy equipment one size too big hoping he'll be able to use it next year. Know the rules of the game for your child's level of hockey. Discuss the enforcement of rules with the coach prior to the start of the hockey season. Good sportsmanship, including respect for the other team, go a long way in reducing violence and preventing injuries in minor league hockey.