Fear Of Injury Hurting Hockey Enrolment

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Fear of injury hurting hockey enrolment

Calgary and Edmonton are hosting the prestigious World Junior Hockey Championships. All eyes are on Canada as it skates to reclaim bragging rights as the world’s best junior hockey power. Yet the success Canada has enjoyed for years in minor hockey has long masked problems that threaten hockey’s future in this country.

First and foremost, the game is plagued with serious injuries. Back in the 1970s the big safety issue was eye injuries. Now, more and more Canadians share concerns about body checking.

A five-year study of 3,000 boys aged four to 18 in a hockey program in Burlington, Ont., found that 66 per cent of injuries were from accidents such as colliding with teammates, sliding into the boards or posts or getting hit with the puck. The researchers attributed the remaining 34 per cent to players checking each other.

A joint study by the University of Calgary, McGill University and the University of Laval tracked injuries to 2,200 peewee players through the 2007-08 season. It revealed that 11-and 12-year-old hockey players in leagues that allow body checking are 2.5 times more likely to get hurt and 3.5 times more likely to suffer a concussion.

In Quebec, players do not body check until Bantam (ages 13 to 14), and even then only at the elite levels. In Alberta, body checking begins at the Peewee level (ages 11 and 12).

The findings make a case for raising the body-checking age and for limiting body checking at all levels. One of the researchers, Dr. Carolyn Emery from the department of kinesiology at the University of Calgary, estimated a ban in peewee hockey would eliminate over 1,000 injuries and 400 concussions annually among the nearly 9,000 peewee players in Alberta.

The main reason kids play any sport is for fun and getting hit is no fun. Hitting and the risk of serious injuries, including concussions, remove the motivation. More and more parents are simply not allowing their children to play.

Enrolment in Hockey Canada teams is currently 572,000 players, down more than 200,000 from its peak. And the prospects are grim. In the next decade, some say there could be 200,000 fewer kids playing the game. As the pool of talent dwindles, so does the quality and talent level of those who go on to represent Canada internationally.

A major overhaul of minor hockey is needed in Canada, and soon. Getting to the root of the problem is key. A detailed, systemic investigation of the issues confronting minor hockey is crucial.

Emile Therien is the former president of the Canada Safety Council.

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