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Nathaniel Fick
Nathaniel Fick
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Being Mindful of Concussions as Minors’ Playoff Hockey Approaches

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As playoffs for minors’ hockey approach, this is a great time to reevaluate an important part of the game. There has been a great deal of recent and damming evidence that kids who play hockey may face real and permanent damage to their brains and brain development after they have been subjected to game-related concussions. Damage to a brain which is still developing can cause more severe damage than a similar injury suffered by an adult.

A study conducted at the University of Vermont stated there is evidence changes occur in the brain when youth participate in a full-contact sport that involves frequent blows to the head—in this case, hockey. In another study, when researchers in Minnesota followed the injuries of minor hockey players over the course of 16 years, they discovered an alarming history of injury. Injury to limbs was the number one health concern, but traumatic brain injury was the second most common issue. Eight of every 100 players who were injured, according to the Minnesota study, had to be placed in the intensive care due to their brain injury. What makes this more concerning is that nearly all of the injuries resulted from intentional contact, according to the study from the Mayo Clinic.

A study by a scientist from the University of B.C. determined that one thing many younger hockey players may be doing wrong is rushing back from a concussion, after they pass a concussion protocol. The scientist, Nanin Virji-Babul determined that youth should sit out a much longer time after they have received a concussion; otherwise they risk serious long-term repercussions. This is concerning when the consequence of not taking an adequate amount of rest is long-term harm done to brains still developing.

The news from the American Association of Pediatricians is even more alarming. They have determined that the odds of being injured or receiving a concussion are two to three times greater in leagues that allow body checking compared to leagues that do not allow body checking. This group has recommended banning body checking for children who are younger than 15 years of age.
The age 15 was chosen because of differences in age when boys attain puberty. Some 13 year olds have begun puberty at 11, meaning they will be heavier, more muscular, and able to inflict injury on another 13 year old that may still be prepubescent. Some advocate for not body checking for ages above 15, and they would like to see more aggressive rule enforcement regarding contact from behind and stopping contact into or near the boards.

It is estimated that if body checking was eliminated from Bantam and Midget hockey, there could be 40,000 serious injuries eliminated across Canada annually. Conversely, for those who argue that body checking is necessary for kids to learn the game and advance in the ranks of hockey, it is estimated that for every youth hockey player who makes it to the NHL, there will be 26 concussions nationwide for every hour of play and potentially, many of those youth will suffer some sort of permanent damage to their developing brains.

The choice is simple. We can ignore the statistics and the medical evidence and allow our children to keep harming themselves because “we’ve always done it this way”, or we can be progressive and protect our youth.