Hockey is a tough game. That’s certainly a fact. Many would go as far as to call it a grown man’s game — I would clarify that it is played by many strong women or girls too.
It’s not often you hear the word commonly referencing furry felines tossed around in hockey circles. (Well, maybe pertaining to a player or two along the way). However, it has been used in those conversations lately. I was told it was even shouted across the table at the Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador meetings last week.
My first thought of the attempt to ban bodychecking from minor hockey outside the AAA midget and AAA bantam levels was in total agreement with that notion. I was actually appalled to see how close it came to being passed.
Taking a step back to think, I was actually not shocked by the 34-27 vote that defeated the motion. It is certainly the way society is trending towards sports. In our age of inclusiveness, there is far less focus on competition — well, my definition of it anyway. I believe it will only be a matter of time before bodychecking is eliminated from minor hockey altogether. It is the parents’ and coaches’ overprotective nature of kids playing sports these days.
I definitely do not want to see anybody hurt — especially seriously — but it has always been a part of the game.
These days, pitchers in provincial tournaments have ridiculously short pitch counts to obey. It all follows the same mentality. We can’t be changing the way sports are played because we are afraid somebody will get hurt. Protect those pitchers sure, but there’s no need to baby them.
The argument against bodychecking — backed by medical expertise and advice — is that children are more prone to concussions. I would never argue against that. However, I will argue against the notion it is better to eliminate bodychecking at a younger age. I think this actually increases the risks to minor hockey players. Actually, eliminating hitting in peewee was a mistake.
If players are not getting hit at the ages of 11 and 12, when they are having their growth spurts and peaking in terms of talent, they are losing out and developing bad habits.
With no fear of being hit, they are flying around the ice with their heads down — something that leads to a lot of the injuries we see. If the player does not know the hit is coming, there is no chance to absorb the contact or “take the hit.” The risk of getting hit makes a player better at skating with his or her head up and more conscious of where their opponents are.
Another big cause of injury in hockey is “dirty” hits. Players must learn at a young age to hit, and be hit, properly. It has to be instilled in them to not hit to the head or from behind.
The longer before this lesson is taught, the harder it will become to adapt into one’s game.
So, in that respect, yes. Take bodychecking out of the game altogether. If it is not being done right, then no wonder young players are getting hurt.
One thing I do see in the game of hockey that encourages eliminating bodychecking that the overwhelming majority of players who play the game eventually play a game without hitting. The recreational leagues and Thursday evening scrimmages are the future for most players, but the integrity of the game should not be jeopardized on that point.
Sometimes, we can do as much as we want to protect our children — our adults for that matter. However, injury is part of the game. Dirty play and a disregard for opponents has no place in sports anymore.
Sports can’t be played in a bubble, and a bubble is no place for a child to grow up. Eventually, at some point in their lives, the real world will set in and that bubble will burst. Maybe it will be from a hit they take in life. That is more likely to happen if they are never prepared to take it.