We are a hockey family. My husband and brother both grew up playing recreational hockey and they both still play today. My dad started coaching when my brother was young and has worked his way up to be the Regional Development Coordinator of the OMHA. He loves the game. He is passionate about the game. But most of all he cares the most that others are passionate about the game. In Simcoe he started running the initiation program for kids aged 4 thru 8 years ago. It seems to me that he has been doing this forever. There was over a decade where he was involved in SDMHA but had no child playing. Last year everything came full circle when Kaitlyn started playing hockey. At the time I had my two girls, Kaitlyn and Eileen, and my husband and I agreed that they would play hockey, if they wanted to, and Kaitlyn wanted to. She is no Olympic athlete but she has developed a love for the game.
She is only 5 years old but I am already thinking of all the sacrifices we will have to make as hockey parents. Early mornings, driving through bad weather to out-of-town games, giving up weekends for tournaments – but we are willing to do that for her, or any of our children, if it is something they love to do. Right now she just finished the Learn-to-Play program which was once a week but in September she increase to twice a week. She is playing in a mixed league right now and I am O.K. with that. We have a girls hockey league here in Simcoe, and if she is still playing when she reaches Atom or PeeWee level she will probably switch leagues. All I have ever cared about is that she switched before body checking is introduced at the PeeWee level.
Then last August all my hockey worries changed with the birth of my beautiful baby boy, Michael. I had my two amazing girls but now I had my boy. As much as we may not like to admit it, when it comes to hockey things are different with boys. The girls were always encouraged to want to play hockey but if they didn’t show interest it was thought that there is nothing wrong with dance or gymnastics. With a boy there seems to be a bit more pressure to play hockey. If he really doesn’t want to play it won’t be forced upon him but somehow I don’t think that will be a problem. With both of his older sisters playing and Daddy watching Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday there is a good chance he will love the game as much as the rest of us.
My worries come as I am watching all the news coverage and reading about all the research that is coming out on children and head injuries. Then I watch clips of children’s hockey games with kids violently checking each other into the boards. All the time I am holding my precious baby in my arms. Now don’t get me wrong I know kids get hurt, and that is a part of life. For anyone who knows me, knows that my 2-year-old Eileen is one of the most accident prone children around. She regularly walks into walls when she is not looking, trips over her own feet and has dislocated her elbow a half a dozen times. Most of these thing don’t bother me at all – I just pick her up, brush her off and kiss her boo boos. It is part of growing up. But developing a serious head injury after being hit into the boards the wrong way while playing a game is NOT a necessity of growing up.
I understand completely that hockey is a contact sport – and I accept that. When grown men are playing the game, and are properly trained how to take and give a check it adds excitement to the sport. I have even come to accept that younger players playing at a very competitive level, will have checking in their games. And you know what, there will always be contact in hockey, with or without body checking. It is the nature of the game. There is even contact at the Tyke level, however often that happens when players accidentally crash into each other.
I know I have been rambling on but now I am getting to the point – I don’t understand why parents would put their child’s safety and well being when playing recreational hockey at a house league level. If you are not playing at least AAA rep hockey by the time you are at a PeeWee level you are not going to the NHL. You are playing the game for FUN! That amazing word which is why we put our 3/4/5 year olds into the game to start with. We want to share our love of a game that is Fun, that you can play throughout your childhood and even as an adult. When he has time, my husband still plays a pick-up game on Friday afternoons. Why – because it is fun! I know other adults who can’t play. Why? Because they had too many injuries, usually head injuries, when playing hockey as a child.
So what will we do when Michael starts playing hockey. Well first we will constantly make sure he is playing for the right reasons – because he loves the game. Right now I am just hoping that all the research that is being published on head injuries and children will finally get through to its audience and the appropriate changes are made. If he plays house league we will tirelessly campaign for a non-contact house league. If he plays rep we will work to make sure all his coaches, teammates and he himself are properly coached and educated on safety and skill. But most of all we will be his parents – we will protect, love and support him at all times!
For more information on the research into checking in youth hockey please check out the following file: Get the Facts