Limiting Ice Hockey Checking Until 15: Where Good Science Leads to Good Policy
Very proud of colleagues Keith Loud, MD, M.SC., FAAP and Alison Brooks, MD, FAAP for their lead roles in publishing the new American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) policy statement on Reducing Injury Risk from Body Checking in Boys’ Youth Ice Hockey.
Before I comment further on the importance of this paper, I will disclose that as a member of the COSMF Executive Committee at the time of the statement development, I reviewed their work and provided insight on the final product.
I was most impressed with the solid scientific and epidemiology citations utilized to develop their recommendations, including the admonition that limiting checking until age 15 will reduce risk of concussion and likely lead to more years of participation in a potentially life-long activity.
Until this data was assessed, the debate on checking was vocal and valid. Would checking restrictions at young ages decrease head injury risk, or would they lead to higher risk of concussion as players would not be able to safely absorb hits if only taught at an older age?
Now we can address this questions not just with emotional responses or hearken to tradition, but rather use good evidence to base policy that should not alter the sport, but enhance long-term participation.
The discourse on checking mirrors the current concerns over tackling limitations in youth football, and the COSMF is in the process of producing a policy statement on this subject. Here the debate is between limiting contact to reduce cumulative burden of head impacts versus needing adequate tackling time to reduce injuries from improper technique, especially on game days.
Much like the Ice Hockey statement, the hope is that good science will drive tackling recommendations, for now there is a lack of consistent evidence upon which to counsel players, families, coaches, and policy makers.
Proposing changes that affect the nature of a sport are fraught with emotional and passionate responses, but this Ice Hockey statement is a balanced scientific effort that truly strives to create a safer and more prolonged ability for players to enjoy a wonderful and engaging sport.