To check or not to check, that is the important safety question facing youth hockey players, their parents, and the leagues they play in. Hockey is known as a rough sport in general, but the defensive move of checking, which involves slamming another player with either your body or your stick-wielding forearms to keep him from getting to the puck, is proving to be particularly dangerous.
A 2010 study reveals that pee-wee ice hockey leagues which allow body checks among preteens report more injuries than leagues which don't, and most of these injuries are related to the body check. Publishing in the June 9 Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers did a comparative analysis of hockey players from two Canadian leagues; one which allowed checking, and one which did not. They enlisted 150 different youth hockey teams from the Pee Wee league (children ages 11 or 12, most consisting of boys but a few girls as well), and had a physical trainer or other adult record injuries to the team's players throughout the season. All told, the study tracked more than 1,000 players.
The Alberta leagues recorded 209 total injuries during games in this period. That compares to 70 game-related injuries for the non-checking Quebec teams. Among these injuries, there were 73 concussions reported among the 74 youth hockey teams which allowed checking, compared to 20 in the 76 teams in the other league that did not. This is particularly worrisome, because recent research has linked brain injuries among youth to a variety of future problems, particularly when multiple concussions are involved.
Study co-author Carolyn Emery, an epidemiologist and physiotherapist at the University of Calgary in Alberta, reports that "the public health implications of body-checking in Pee Wee ice Hockey are significant. In Alberta, we estimate that if Pee Wee ice hockey checking were removed, it would prevent over 1,000 injuries and 400 concussions per year." The study joins a growing body of research highlighting the dangers of checking in Hockey.
Players who were in the lowest 25th percentile for weight in their leagues proved more prone to injury than their heavier peers. In other words, the littlest kids got creamed the most, which shouldn't be all that surprising.
Many youth Hockey leagues already ban checking among pre-teen players for safety reasons. However, youth in older-age groups often allow the practice. Hockey is a physical sport, and parents can't shield their children from every injury, especially if it involves a game your child loves to play. But you should at least be aware of the risk: with the checking comes a substantial increase in injuries.
1. Nathan Seppa, "A check on youth hockey injuries," Science News, July 3, 201 0, Vol. 1 78 ( 1 ) :9
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