Category Archives: Discussion

Forty percent concussion rate from illegal hits: What can we do to stop it?

On Wednesday, London Knights winger Max Jones was ejected from a game against the Owen Sound Attack when he threw a blindside hit to the head of forward Justin Brack. Media outlets reported on it, calling it a “vicious hit,” and there was no shortage of comments from the public. They were, unfortunately, polarising.

At the suggestion that Jones may have diminished his chances of becoming a first-round selection at the upcoming draft, Rico07 said, “How does he hurt his stock? If anything he moves up the rankings. The kid is 6’3” imagine what a few summers in the gym will do.” To which another respondent commented, “Hmm… it’s difficult to imagine from where this Jones kid learned to deliver such cheap shots.”

We know that contact is a part of the sport of hockey. It’s why players lug so much protective padding to and from the rink from the time they first step onto the ice at the Mini Watt age (and why there’s a boom in the minivan industry thanks to hockey families). But there’s a difference between clean hits that are permissible, and ones that can leave permanent, lasting damage to a player. We don’t need to bring up the career ending hit on Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore by Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi to illustrate that point.

A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program recently concluded that more than 40 percent of concussions in youth hockey are the direct result of illegal hits.

Forty percent! That’s a staggering figure. More worryingly, younger players are at a higher risk.

Anthony Kontos, lead author for the Pittsburgh study, suggested that training kids to obey the rules and enforcing penalties may reduce the number of concussions. He says, “Better enforcement of existing penalties for illegal hits – especially those from behind when players are less able to protect themselves – may help to limit concussions in youth ice hockey.”

It may. But a major contributing factor, we’d argue, is the fact that our youth players are watching illegal hits like the Max Jones one this past week on television. Just about every kid who plays youth hockey dreams of playing for the NHL one day. The players they see on TV are their role models, and their actions are, for better or worse, emulated on the ice at all age groups.

In the OHL, body contact isn’t introduced as an acceptable play until Peewee, and with the 2013-2014 season, body checking was moved back an age-group to Bantam. According to the OHL website, “Education will remain a priority focusing on the 4-Step Checking Progression, which begins the first time a young player steps on the ice. This progression emphasizes the practice of positioning, angling and stick checks followed by contact Confidence and Body Contact which is taught at the later stages of athlete development.”

So while penalties may reduce the number and severity of illegal hits, it’s really up to coaches, parents and the general youth hockey community to explain to these young players the consequences of illegal hits and discourage them from being thrown on the ice at the local house league game. Just like we’re teaching our children to be media savvy with the prevalence of age-inappropriate imagery and messaging, we hockey-loving adults need our young players to be able to comprehend what goes on during those televised professional and semi-professional games (legal, appropriate or otherwise), and how it’s not appropriate for youth play.

Forty percent is a frightening number. With all the benefits we know youth hockey offers, let’s do our part to make sure that they are not outweighed by the risks.

Featured image photo credit: jhderojas

Respect in Hockey: Respecting Our Referees

Yelling is no longer the only thing youth sports officials have to be concerned about

It’s a disappointing development for the game we all love. Hot on the heels of the OMHA’s recent launch of its “Respect in Hockey” video campaign, two referees were assaulted in Howell, New Jersey after a high school hockey game.

“The dispute started during the game,” said the release from the Howell Police Department. “Following the game, one parent approached two referees regarding the dispute. At this time a physical altercation began and a [fourth] subject became involved in the altercation. The four subjects involved in the physical altercation sustained minor visible injuries (This included red marks and bruising to facial area, bloodshot eyes, bruised hand) and complaints of pain. Two of the involved subjects refused medical attention and the other two subjects were transported to Jersey Shore Medical Center.”

We hate to see it, but hostility towards officials has been on the rise lately. Even referees in organizations as high as the NHL and NBA are speaking out about it. Not surprisingly, the number of officials in youth hockey across Canada is dwindling.

Let’s take a minute to think about what that means to our kids playing hockey today: If there are no referees, there is no youth hockey.

At the Clarington Recreational Hockey League, we’re about skills development–not just for our players, but for our officials, too. It’s imperative we remember that some of our referees are new to officiating. They are still learning in their roles, and they are going to make mistakes – just as anyone learning a job will. We see it as our job to provide them with the opportunity and guidance they need to grow into the kinds of officials we want to see out there on the ice. But without respect for their authority today, do we have the right to expect them to stick around long enough to be tomorrow’s leaders?

We recently shared a post on our Facebook page from the Farmington Youth Hockey Association that addressed yelling at referees. In it, they said, “We’re focusing on getting our kids to learn the game and when you … yell at refs, you are teaching them to “defy authority.” – Yelling at a ref in a hockey game is no different than talking back to a police officer during a traffic stop. It’s not a lesson to teach our kids.”

Respect is the collective responsibility of everyone involved in hockey. That means players, coaches, bench staff, parents, friends and fans. At no point should anyone involved in hockey feel that they are in anything other than a safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take centre stage. That is the fundamental code which everyone who loves hockey should live by.

Feature image credit: mark6mauno

Creativity and Shinny: What Minor Hockey Might Be Missing

CaptureIs minor hockey worth it?

This was a question asked by the Toronto Star in a 2013 article which addressed the cost of minor hockey in Canada, and the statistical outlook for kids who hope to make it to the NHL.

Being a recreational hockey organization, our initial response was a resounding YES! For most of us who enjoyed a hockey childhood, we remember cold winter days spent on the pond until it got so dark we couldn’t see the puck anymore. We remember the smell of the ice first thing in the morning for those early games, and that twenty-kid pileup on the goalie after a well-deserved win.

Is minor hockey worth it … seriously?? [Insert snort of derision here]

However, with such a provocative question put forth by the Star, we naturally wanted to find out what their opinion was. So we read the full article …

Ahhh, okay. They’re looking specifically at minor hockey, as opposed to our recreational type of program here at the CRHL. And the writer does make some fair points with regards to expense, demographics, and margins of success — all points which don’t apply to us in quite the same way.

We did, however, find one suggestion particularly intriguing. The Star argues that with such a heavy focus on regimented, intensive training, minor hockey associations throughout Canada are producing players who are less creative than their forbears.

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Photo credit: Robert Taylor

Well that’s quite a glove slap to minor hockey! But one the Star, and many other industry experts, defend with statistics and live examples. More than simply substantiating such an accusation, they go so far as to offer a solution to this alleged tangible problem. And that solution is …

Unstructured, unregimented, unscripted … shinny??

Yes, shinny. Apparently this free skate style of hockey for the sake of the game alone offers something that intense training cannot. According to the Massachusetts Hockey association (Mass), when there is “freedom from clocks and walls and officials and coaches and whistles and lines … unrivaled joy beckons. There is also a by-product from this lack of structure: Player development for young skaters.” Mass points to Roger Grillo, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, whom they quote as arguing that creativity is a major part of developing high-end players.

Triple-A coaches far and wide are beginning to recognize this shift in player development also. The star reports one coach as saying, “Unlike Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky, [players today haven’t] logged thousands of hours playing shinny. Instead they log thousands of hours in minivans; a game that can be a three-hour commitment when factoring in commute times and dressing time, but it only yields 10-17 minutes of ice time for the player.”

Interesting … and not inaccurate, when one stops to think about it. Ken Dryden, in his book The Game, writes that, “It is in free time that the special player develops, not in the competitive expedience of games, in hour-long practices … in mechanical devotion to packaged, processed, coaching-manual, hockey-school skills.”

To further this suggestion, there is an interesting anecdote on the Herb Brooks Foundation website:

A generation ago, Johnson High School in St. Paul was a Minnesota hockey powerhouse … Its success wasn’t due to better coaching, facilities, or innate athletic ability of East Side kids. Instead, it was the countless hours of unstructured practice by the Phalen Park rink rats. Hockey was part of the culture on the St. Paul’s East Side. Kids went to the rink/pond to meet their friends and have fun playing hockey. The game belonged to them.

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Photo credit: jpellgen [modifications: cropped]
As a recreational hockey association, of course the CRHL firmly believes that hockey practice, with regimented drills and a focus on skills, is an essential part of hockey development. But it’s only a part. With Canada being so strong on hockey culture, it’s safe to say that most of us can agree a little shinny wouldn’t go amiss. In between the early morning power skating, the practices, the games and the tournaments, perhaps we do need to remember to carve out some time for our kids to get out there on a pond, or a free rink, and just have at it.

Their game. Their way.

It’s food for thought, anyway.

Featured image credit: Jamie McCaffrey

What Youth Sports can Learn from Jose Bautista’s Bat Flip

The bat flip heard round the world. It has been the subject of countless memes, been played and replayed on sportscast highlights, and it has flooded social media. It’s even been carved onto pumpkins. Time will tell if “the bat flip” will be one of those defining moments of Jose Bautista’s career, like Babe Ruth’s “called shot” was in game three of the 1932 world series.

Photo credit: Zack Chisholm (edits: photo cropped)
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. Photo credit: Zack Chisholm (edits: photo cropped)

It has also been the subject of intense media criticism, much of which accused Bautista of attacking the integrity of baseball. Sam Dyson, the pitcher for the Rangers who gave up the game-changing home run, insisted, “Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more … [He] is a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game … It shouldn’t be done.”

Bautista’s official rebuff of such accusations came in the form of an eloquent article he wrote on November 9th for The Players’ Tribune titled “Are You Flipping Kidding Me?” In it, he writes:

There’s no sound in the world like the crack a baseball makes on the sweet spot of my maple Marucci. You blink on contact. The immediate roar of the crowd lifts your sights to see where the ball is going. Imagine the feeling of watching it land in the seats. How would you feel? What would you do?

There was no script. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.

I flipped my bat.

If social media is any measure of popular opinion, then it would seem that Toronto stands behind their Joey Bats and his infamous flip. And it’s one of those moments in sports history that can teach our youth a lot about sportsmanship. Helping our players develop sportsmanship and character, after all, is one of our overarching goals as an organization. As Youth Football Online aptly states, “Character development is just as relevant as learning the game … It’s of utmost importance to be respectful of your teammates and opponents.”

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Photo credit: Wayne Stadler

Anyone who loves hockey knows that it is an emotional rollercoaster of a sport. It’s not indifference that motivates our players to get out there on that ice game after game, practice after practice, and give it their all. It’s passion. Celebrating achievements—that perfect goal, that beauty pass, that incredible save—is evidence of that passion.

There is a fine line, however, between celebration and showboating, and it’s not always the easiest line to define. Even the experts don’t seem to agree on where that line exists, as the arguments on both sides of “the bat flip” show us. When we’re dealing with kids, communication is essential to helping our young athletes develop an understanding of the difference between the two.

This is a sentiment echoed by Al Adamsen, trainer for the Positive Coaching Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area. When asked by a youth coach how to address showboating, he suggests, “[The] key to achieving your goal is communication. Communication is often thought of as a one-time event. It’s not. As John Wooden once said, ‘It’s not what you teach. It’s what you emphasize.’ This could not be more true when you’re communicating with opposing coaches, administrators, players, parents, etc.”

There are two sides to the coin here, and communication needs to be had on both the Moose and the Queen sides (pardon the nod to our Canadiana roots). First, players need to understand that showboating is not a reflection of good sportsmanship. That one’s a given. But second, and less obvious, is that players need to understand that celebration isn’t always showboating. Jose Bautista highlights this point in his article when he goes on to say that his bat flip “wasn’t out of contempt for the pitcher. It wasn’t because I don’t respect the unwritten rules of the game. I was caught up in the emotion of the moment… Those moments are spontaneous. They’re human. And they’re a whole lot of fun.”

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Photo credit: Keith Allison

When it comes to helping our children develop character in the game of hockey, communication is key. Sam Dyce’s accusation that Bautista is being a poor role model is only a justified one if we don’t help our players, at whatever level they may be in their youth sports career, understand and appreciate the proper place celebration holds in the sport of hockey.

Recognizing the appropriate level of celebration and, just as important, respecting the right of the opposing team to celebrate their own achievements—that is the mark of a mature player.

Photo credit for featured image: Keith Allison