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The following post was written by Andrea Winarski, the brains behind the organization, Safer Hockey in Canada. It’s message needs to be heard. Please “like” and “share” this article with other moms whose sons are involved in hockey.
When you ask a 10 year old boy why he likes playing hockey, he will tell you it is fun. “Being with friends, working on a team and scoring goals is ‘sick’.” says Liam of the Markham Waxers Atom AA team. He may tell you of his heroes, Sydney Crosby and Steven Stamkos and he may tell you of his dream of being in the NHL.
Over 500 000 children participate in hockey each year in Canada. Having fun, being with friends and scoring ‘sick’ goals is part of the game for everyone. Making it to the NHL is another story. Experts say that 1 in 4000 kids have a shot at a professional career. That works out to 0.025%.
Canadian parents are enthusiastic hockey fans. They encourage and support their children’s dreams of playing professional hockey and they have the resources to do so. Kids today start playing in organized leagues at the age of 4 . They receive power skating lessons, they play 3 on 3 in the off season, they attend summer hockey camps and if you are lucky enough to have the space, the back yard rink is almost a given.
Hockey at the Rep 10 year old level is fast-paced and skill based. It is physical and body contact is part of the game. “Battling it out for the puck and scoring is the best part.” says Liam. At this top level of play, these kids are arguably faster and far more skilled at all aspects of the game by the age of 10 than 90% of the players born in the 1970s at the same age.
At the age of 11, Hockey Canada introduces body checking to the game.
To give you some background, because it is too dangerous, body checking is not allowed in girls’ leagues nor is it allowed in men’s leagues, where 99.9% of our Rep players will be playing over the age of 20. Body checking is only in our boys’ Rep leagues so that our boys are trained properly for professional careers in hockey.
Andrea Cuthbert’s son played Rep hockey and loved it until he was 11 and body checking was introduced. In 3 months he sustained 3 concussions. After spending hours researching the long term consequences of concussions, Andrea decided to pull her child from the Rep league. The sad thing about this is that as an elite athlete in a team sport, her son now has no one at his level to play with. He plays House League (where there is no hitting) and skates circles around his team mates. This is not the competitive game he enjoyed.
“I refuse to go to Rep games where kids are constantly lying listless on the ice due to an illegal check”, says Andrea. “I feel sick watching them get carted off the ice on a stretcher…they are just kids trying to have some fun and competition. So far in our Pee Wee year we have had at least 9 incidences of concussion on our team. We have to ask ourselves as parents, why are our kids in this – for fun and competition or to go the NHL?”
It was stated, July 25, 2011, at the Mayo Clinic “Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion” Symposium that (as compared to the adult brain):
The 11 year old brain is more easily concussed.
The 11 year old brain takes longer to recover from a concussion.
The 11 year old brain is susceptible to more serious long-term effects, if they suffer a concussion.
The 11 year old brain is not developed enough to ‘anticipate’ being hit while also trying to play hockey….the ability to ‘anticipate’ being hit is 50% of avoiding injury.
Neuroscientist Dave Ellemberg found that not only were the concussions of all children as serious and long-lasting as those of adults, but the concussions suffered by adolescents had the most serious consequences of all.
“The brain does not fully mature until at least the mid-20s, so if a concussion occurs in a still-developing brain, the trajectory of that development will presumably be affected,” says Jordan Grafman, Ph.D., Chief of Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke.
The prefrontal cortex is concerned with tasks such as reasoning, decision-making, problem-solving, planning, holding things in mind, and switching between tasks. “All of those abilities are still developing in adolescents and young adults, so one or more of them can be affected by even a mild head injury,” Grafman says. “In head injuries, these regions are particularly susceptible to damage, partly because of where they reside in the brain.” There is also a link between concussions and the incidence of dementia, depression and reduced cognitive function later in life.
The Canadian Paediatric Society, the American Pediatric Association and the Mayo Clinic all recognize these facts and have made recommendations to have body checking removed from the Pee Wee (ages 11-12) level of play. USA Hockey has removed body checking from their Pee Wee age group.
According to Dr. Aubry, the International Ice Hockey Federations’ chief medical officer, “We’re exposing these kids to an increased risk of injury at an age where I think we should still be talking about skill development and having fun.”
It seems logical to mothers like Andrea and I, that the only way to come close to eliminating concussions in children who play hockey is to remove body checking. This is not so obvious to Hockey Canada, the people responsible for setting the rules. According to Hockey Canada’s Disscussion on: Body Checking by Paul Carson the VP of Hockey Development, “…body checking in minor hockey is an extremely complex issue and simple answers are not possible.”
I have spent the last month discussing this subject with the parents of Rep hockey players whose children enter the Pee Wee level next year. Most of these parents are aware of the dangers of concussions but do not realize the staggering numbers of children that do suffer concussions as a direct result of body checking.
While the parents may be nervous, they do not think that it will happen to their child. They also think that because body checking is introduced at Pee Wee that ‘it can’t be that bad’. They are making the dangerous mistake of assuming that Hockey Canada has developed its program taking into account the professional recommendations of the medical community.
In the eloquent words of Trudy White-Matthews, yet another mother whose son suffered a concussion, as a direct result of a body check in his Pee Wee year, “I truly fear for the safety of all players. My experience indicates the system fails the player in the instance when they most need to be protected. This is a serious breech of responsibility and accountability in my perspective. This is NOT an issue of being for or against body checking, this is a more serious issue of behaviour and outcomes by the stewards of minors.”
Since Hockey Canada, the ‘steward of our minors’, is not taking a leadership role with respect to change, change is going to have to be driven by the Canadian people. Specifically the hockey moms because no one will advocate for rules that protect children more passionately than mothers.
Just to be clear, we are not asking for our children to be ‘bubble wrapped’. We understand that hockey is a physical game-that is why our boys love it! We want them to continue to play the game at the elite level and not have to hang up their skates due to childhood concussions.
Safer Hockey in Canada is an organization formed by moms. We have started with passion and a Facebook Page. Our website will be out in December. We are petitioning Hockey Canada to remove body checking from the Pee Wee (11-12) and Bantam (13-14) levels of play. We are asking for your help. Please educate everyone on this issue by sharing the medical studies and the recommendations from the medical community. Please share and sign our petition. Most of all, please get people talking about how our boys are unnecessarily getting hurt!