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Body checks not the main culprit.

Hockey fans likely would assume that body checking--which often entails slamming an opponent against the boards--causes the most injuries in youth ice hockey, but they would be wrong. Findings from a University at Buffalo (N.Y. five-year study show that 66% of overall injuries are caused by accidentally hitting the boards or goal posts, colliding with teammates, or being hit by a puck. Only 34% are induced by checking. Moreover, the accidental injuries are more severe than those from body checks.

"There is an image of body checking as a form of violence that is condoned by the game of hockey," says Barry Willer, professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation sciences and senior author of the study. "However, this study found that body checking did not account for a large proportion of injuries."

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The researchers compared injury rates overall for three levels of competition: "house leagues," where there is no body checking; "select," in which checking is allowed at age 11 and older; and "representative," for the most skilled players, which allows checking in all divisions at age nine and above. They also examined injury rates as level of competition and players' age increase, and how injury rates varied in games versus practices. Only injuries that kept a player off the ice for at least 24 hours were included.

Their analysis of the data shows that there were three times more accidental injuries than body-checking injuries in house leagues. Willer theorizes that accidents at this level of competition are caused primarily by players watching the puck instead of what is in front of them--of not playing "heads-up," which coaches try to instill at all levels.

The "select" level tallied the least injuries with more than half body-checking related, as players first experience hitting on the ice. In the most experienced leagues, however, 59% are not from body checks, but the number of checking injuries is the highest of all of the categories, as the competition level increases.

Willer notes that this study does not answer two important questions: at what age should body checking be allowed in youth hockey, or should it be allowed at all? "The study does suggest that, regardless of whether young players are allowed to body check, unintentional contact with the boards, the ice, or other players are important sources of injury. To avoid these accidents, hockey coaches must teach players to keep their heads up, rather than looking down at the puck."

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Title Annotation:Hockey Injuries
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2011
Words:408
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