Youth, Ice Hockey and Serious Injury
The most common injury in youth ice hockey, is concussion. These injuries can have serious life impacting consequences. Concussion is all too common, and is generally, very, under reported. Body checking is widely recognized as a major cause of concussions. While some of the leaders in the elite hockey leagues, in particular Gary Bettman, deny the association of Hockey and Concussion; the fact stands (not fake news!), that the rate of concussions occurring in ice hockey are higher than any other sport – across the levels of play.
In Canada, in recognition of this risk, in all regulated ice hockey body checking is banned for under 13 years of age (PeeWee and younger), Bantam age is the start of body checking. The Canadian Academy of Sports and Exercise Medicine recommend eliminating body checking for all ages, except for elite players aged 16 and over. Hockey Canada’s position is that checking skills are critical to the game of hockey, and that players must master all aspects of the checking game to become complete players. Their belief is that checking benefits player development, this position is countered by the US Minor Hockey organization where it is felt that checking distracts from the development of other skills such as stick work and skating. The count of game related injuries associated with body checking, triple in PeeWee aged players as they start to check.
Youth are known to be more vulnerable to concussion and have more serious long and short term effects from concussion, yet today, most injuries remain unreported. Devices, such as SportFitz stand to address this and bring concussive events into a place where they can be measured, monitored and then maintained. Young athletes with concussion may experience fatigue, inattention, lack of concentration, memory loss and headaches, and subtle cognitive deficits that may persist for a whole year and beyond for some youths. Repeat concussions are a large risk factor for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), where symptoms extend to depression, suicide, memory loss, behavior and personality changes, early dementia and motor neuron disease.
Sub-concussive impacts cause silent invisible damage to the brains of many young athletes, these nearly always go un-noticed and untreated. Technology such as SportFitz can bring these events into the domain of treatment.
Getting back to hockey, it is an aggressive, high speed game played on a hard surface and boards which presents danger to players of all ages. Inside hockey, body checking being moved to the older aged players has reduced the incidence of concussions and elimination of body checking has shown to be, so far, been the only effective way to make the game safer for youth players.
Onward and Upward, this all makes contact sports pretty intimidating and worrying for those involved, but wait, sports play a vital and colorful role in the development of our youth. The key is to play hard and play safe, and use information and knowledge to make decisions not innuendo and rash judgement on how our youth play. The use of SportFitz technology, can act as a shield for the brain, in hockey we wear shin pads to protect our shins, chest protectors for our chest, helmets for our heads – yet nothing for our brains. Now is the time to use this technology to allow our youth to learn the skills of ice hockey and maintain their brain health – the damaging effects of concussions are cumulative and can tarnish youth for the rest of their lives.