In honour of Brain Awareness Week (Mar. 14 - 20, 2022), which is about focusing the spotlight on brain research and the progress made in that area of study, it seemed fitting to discuss the importance of protecting our brains in sports, especially in high contact sports like hockey. Believe it or not, according to a Sage Journals’ article entitled “Comparing concussion rates as reported by hockey Canada with contact events as observed across minor ice-hockey age categories” published Jul. 14, 2020, “amateur hockey players” were only required to wear approved helmets as of 1978 in Canada. With hockey being such a heavy contact sport, it is no small wonder that helmets have been ruled as a necessary piece of equipment that should be worn by hockey players of all ages, whether amateur or professional.
While the addition of the helmet, often with a face shield, as required safety equipment worn by players has likely reduced the opportunity for serious injury, a study referred to in the aforementioned article suggests that at least one-fifth of all hockey players will suffer a concussion at some point while playing the sport; however, it is possible the actual number is higher as many concussions are thought to go unreported. Additionally, another study mentioned in the same article suggests that of the 20 percent, hockey players between the ages of nine and 17 years make up about ten to 12 percent of those reported concussions, a number that seems too high in an age group that is in the middle of important brain development. The article concludes with the warning that brain injury in players within this age group may lead to limitations in the further development of their cognitive abilities, and suffering multiple concussions could very well lead to permanent neurological difficulties and disabilities.
How To Reduce the Chances of Concussions?
When it comes to playing hockey, it is unrealistic to suggest there may be a way to eliminate the chances of a player suffering a concussion, but it is possible to reduce the possibility of such an injury. The first obvious step is to wear a helmet. An article entitled “Heads Up: Concussion in Hockey” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional suggestions, including ensuring that players play safely and by the rules, that players do not hit other players in the head and wear the proper and approved equipment specially designed for playing hockey. Each player should also ensure they maintain their equipment and replace anything that is damaged or may no longer function as it should.
When it comes to safety of hockey players, especially those under the legal age, it is important to educate them in the importance of wearing the proper helmet and equipment that fits. It is also imperative for players to play by the rules, respect other players, and know where to draw the line on aggressive play. Hockey games for youth have stricter rules to help protect the well-being of such young players, but all leagues have rules that must be followed. Even games played for recreation must see rules followed to ensure everyone ultimately has a good time, can do their best and compete, and can go home after each game without serious injury that could impact the rest of their lives.
Canada Safety Council
Bauer, CCM, Warrior
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