Pediatricians Advocate Curbs on Body Checking in Youth Hockey

A few years ago, I treated a 13 year old boy who was recuperating from a concussion. Although he no longer had classic signs of slow recovery, he seemed withdrawn and depressed and I couldn’t clear him to go back on the ice even after several weeks.  When I finally thought to ask him if he wanted to play he confided to me that he was actually frightened of the body checking and was only playing to make his parents happy. This young man, it turns out, was in good company, although a silent one.

“Boys who play ice hockey in leagues that allow body checking are two to three times more the (sic) likely to suffer serious injuries and concussions compared to boys in non-checking programs.” So says the new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the major advocacy and policy body of US Pediatricians.

The AAP’s Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness has reiterated its 2000 recommendation that body checking in hockey should only be allowed after age 15 and may be taught as a skill to older boys who may go on to play elite hockey. Fifteen is the cutoff to assure that the wide variability in pubertal development, size and strength has reached a more or less level playing field.

The AAP report, written by a pediatrician who is also a hockey player himself and the father of a Bantam (age 13-14) level son, is quick to point out that hockey can be a lifelong source of exercise and enjoyment and the recommendations are not meant to discourage physical activity but rather to promote injury prevention.

I hope my patient from a few years ago is still skating or has found another way to exercise and to participate on a team if he wants to.