Monday, May 27, 2013

Hockey Canada’s Ban on Peewee Bodychecking a First Step

Hockey Canada has banned bodychecking at the peewee level, and Don Cherry is outraged.

“You're gonna be sorry. You watch and see, you will be sorry.” (Don Cherry, Coach’s Corner, 25 May 2013)

According to the CBC story on The Huffington Post Canada, Cherry concedes that Hockey Canada has good intentions, but as he notes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intention here is to save children from brain injury, that is, concussions.

Brains are delicate, and they run our bodies and minds. When they are flung around inside the skull, which is weirdly enough rough on the inside, they don’t do too well. A bit of a bleed here, a few torn neurons there, and you never know what difficulties you will end up with – anything from slow speech to muscle tone problems to racing hearts to minds blocked behind what feels like a woolly fortress. I know. I had one. That’s what Hockey Canada wants to protect children under 13 from.

According to Ron MacLean:

“Their reasoning was that they compared Québec to Alberta and they found that bantam injuries were the same. So either way, it remains a danger.”

But Don Cherry says it will still be a danger despite the ban:

“It would be perfect if all the kids went along, no hitting, and went into a league with no hitting … [but] then [they] go in with kids that hit … think about these kids not knowing how to protect themselves.”

It seems to me that the crux of Cherry’s argument comes down to training. Skills training. How can any team or coach justify tossing kids of any age into a game without training them first in all the skills of the game? From what I understand here, it sounds like when kids turn 13, the coaches will say, “alrighty then, go hit,” without ensuring the young players know how to bodycheck and how to receive a bodycheck. Sounds nutty to me. I can’t believe that’s true.

“In addition to this rule change, a work group has been directed to build a mandatory national checking and instructional resource program to support the progressive implementation of checking skills at the Novice to Peewee levels to better prepare players for body-checking at the Bantam and Midget level.” (Hockey Canada website, 25 May 2013, AGM)

Well, apparently it is true. What do they mean by progressive? Progressive through the ages, or progressive implementation over the next several years? I wonder how long it will take the work group to build a mandatory training program? It should be ready to go now or by September at the latest; otherwise, Hockey Canada is not serving players well. But then I stopped watching NHL hockey a long time ago when it became boxing on skates, with little display of skills. And I seem to recall many people opining a few years ago that Canadian hockey players were losing their skill set due to the emphasis on hitting and fighting. And now we’re seeing the fall-out from that, with grown men dying early and having desperate post-game lives, all due to untreated concussions. Avoidable concussions.

Hockey Canada has taken a small step toward protecting players from being injured in the first place. But they have to do much more if they sincerely want to protect players from concussions. Despite what one assumes, helmets do not protect anyone from concussion. Normally, cerebrospinal fluid keeps the brain from touching the skull. Brain injury occurs when the brain moves back and forth sufficiently violently that the brain smashes right through the protective fluid and into the skull itself. Only an internal force field could stop that from happening, certainly not an external helmet. And so Hockey Canada needs to be zero tolerant on bad bodychecks, needs to stop boxing on skates, needs to address the fact that body-protective equipment can give a false sense of security and can injure, and needs to focus on skills again so that we can enjoy the pure sport of hockey without the guilt of knowing many of these players will lead diminished, shortened lives due to concussions.

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