There is a very contentious debate growing within the circles of minor hockey in Canada. That debate is about body checking. When should body checking be introduced? Should it be introduced at all? If we take body checking out of the game will it be the beginning of the end for the sport?
This debate often gins up extreme emotion from both sides. Arguments, anger and insults unfortunately cloud an intellectual discussion.
In a recent secret ballot, Calgary Minor Hockey Association voted to defeat a ban on body checking at the pee wee level. The group also voted down a motion to eliminate body checking in bantam and midget below the elite level.
In Quebec, hitting is not allowed among 11 & 12 year old players. In British Columbia's Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association, they voted 76% in favor of banning body checking at all house levels but it remains in all elite and competitive levels. Ontario also has rules banning body checking at various competitive levels.
The main reason for the ban on body checking is obviously a safety issue. Study after study confirms that minor hockey players who participate in games that allow body checking are getting injured more than those who play non-contact games. With what we are starting to understand about concussions, parents are concerned.
Hockey Canada and its member associations are all wrestling with the same dilemma.
However, rules and bans will only continue to cause dissension among the governing bodies, leagues and parents.
The solution is to teach the game properly from the minute kids step on the ice.
It is asinine to keep checking out of the game until the bantam and midget levels. At age 13 to 16, teenagers size and aggression levels are incredibly varied. This is a recipe for injuries and dangerous hits if the players have not learned the skill properly.
As soon as kids get on the ice coaches should be teaching the reason we body check -to remove the man from the puck, not the head from the man.
Use the proper term. It is a body checking not hitting. Keep the aggression but remove the violence from the action.
As my friend Jamie Baker always talks about, teach the puck carrier that he is responsible for his own positioning and safety on the ice. Teach the kids to not turn their backs on an incoming opponent.
Teach the kids that getting your shoulder up against the boards when receiving a check can absorb the force of the blow.
Properly instruct the players about angling, contact confidence, rubbing out along the boards, proper stick and arm levels when making contact. Teach that checking a player in the back and head shots are 100% unacceptable.
At the same time the kids have to be perfecting skating first and foremost. Add to it puck-handling, passing and shooting. It is a lot to demand in a sport but that is why we all love hockey so much. It is one of the most difficult sports to play.
If you properly educate and work on all the aspects of the game where the kids are comfortable giving and taking a check then it becomes a game where its participants have contact confidence. You will have a safer game because the attitudes and skills will be consistent even though the size of the players is not.