The body check is a foundational component of hockey. It adds aspects of physicality, strategy and grit to the game that are impossible to duplicate without it.
However, body checking has come under growing scrutiny because of its link to concussions. So much so that Hockey Canada’s board of directors recently voted to eliminate body checking for Pee Wee players.
“The Canadian Pediatric Society applauds the leadership taken today by Hockey Canada to remove body checking from Pee Wee level hockey across the country,” said Dr. Andrew Lynk, president of the Canadian Pediatric Society. “This evidence-based decision puts brain safety first and will enhance player development by focusing on fundamental skills, fun and lifetime fitness.”
This brings Hockey Canada in conformity with USA Hockey, which banned body checking at the Pee Wee level (11-12-year-olds) in 2010.
Although the health of young hockey players is obviously paramount, this decision does have serious ramifications for athletes and the game. Here are four reasons why reinstating contact is a good idea.
1. Hockey Players Will Check During Their Careers
A hockey player will eventually be able to body check, likely when he or she gets to the bantam level. At this level, players are bigger, faster and stronger; and they have the capability to produce crushing blows. Yet, the players will lack two years of valuable experience learning how to dish out a body check and absorb contact.
Introducing body checking at younger ages increases general preparedness and athletic coordination. It should be viewed as a way to prevent injuries, not cause them.
2. Checking Creates a Level Playing Field
Bigger players have an inherent advantage because they can use their reach and body size to control the puck. Think of a big brother taunting his smaller sibling by holding a toy over his head.
Checking completely changes the situation. Small players can use body contact to their advantage by getting inside position on larger players. Now the smaller sibling can kick his big brother in the shins!
Eliminating checking will cause coaches to covet players for their size alone—even more than they do now—making it difficult for smaller players to make an elite team. This is counterproductive to the American Development Model, which calls for equal touches and opportunities for all types of players.
3. Checking Introduces Proper Angling Techniques
Angling involves using proper stick and body position to drive puck carriers wide. Players should be taught to make stick-on-stick and body-on-body contact before initiating a body check.
This technique cannot be instructed without contact, or else the player will be penalized. So, stick action is the only option to cause a turnover.
If and when contact is reinstated, the defending player will be more likely to lunge to make contact. A big hit may occur from time to time—which increases the risk of a concussion—but more often than not, defenders will not have the skill to stop an offensive player who’s driving wide.
4. Avoiding the Issue Is Not the Answer
Rather than addressing the problem, the decision makers in Hockey Canada and USA Hockey decided to avoid it altogether. In doing so, they have reduced the quality of play and impaired every young hockey player’s development.
Instead, developing a strategy that encourages respect for opponents may have reduced the chance of injury while still allowing for contact. Players need to understand when their opponent is in a vulnerable position and how not to exploit it.
Where does this leave the game? It is unlikely that both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey will change their rulings. As coaches, we need to react to the situation. We must focus on teaching young players to the best of our ability so that their essential skills are refined when they reach the bantam level. We can then take the time to fully instruct them in proper checking technique to help limit the impact of this new aspect of their game.
CBC: Hockey Canada votes to ban bodychecking in peewee hockey