A new survey has reopened an old hockey debate about whether young kids should be able to bodycheck. CBC ran quite a thorough report on the University of Calgary study, which found that kids are three times as likely to be injured or suffer a concussion if they play with body contact. The study was based on a comparison between Alberta peewee players, who play with body contact, and Quebec kids who don’t.
The study is accurate in what it reports, but it shows a profound lack of understanding of hockey in what it chose to study in the first place. Very few hockey coaches argue for hitting at 11 years old for the sake of hitting. And, frankly, even an old goon like me has to wonder at the sanity of those who do.
Rather the reason they want kids to learn how to hit at this age – or even younger – is because they’re too young to seriously hurt each other at this age. An 11 year has the strength and size to hit pretty hard, but nothing that generally causes any serious, lasting damage.
But while that may be debatable, and the number of concussions reported in the survey seem to at least partially prove that argument wrong, the rest of the argument goes that you don’t want 5’10”, 170lb kids learning to hit each other. At older ages, with that size and strength, if you don’t already know how to give and safely receive a hit – as well as having already learned good habits like keeping your head up – you’re likely to get very seriously hurt playing full contact hockey.
Studies like this don’t help the debate at all because they inject partial data without really looking at all parts of a fairly serious issue. Does allowing young kids to hit prevent future injuries? Do kids who learn how to hit at a young age get injured less as they get older? Are those injuries less severe? Or do kids who play full contact starting at a young age just have more injuries throughout their careers.
Unfortunately this study will ignite a lot of debate on the issue, but won’t do much to help hockey coaches and leagues figure out how to keep their kids safe playing what is an inherently dangerous game.