Heads in the Sand

March 15, 2011
Hockey sticks and a puck

Looks like the issue of head shots in hockey is getting some traction, even among the NHL top brass who it appears may be taking their heads out of the sand. A five-point plan from the NHL is under development to address the problem of hits to the head. I’m not sure, however, what’s wrong with the one-point plan of banning head shots, whether intentional or not, and backing up the ban with severe consequences. The offending player should be kicked out of the game and receive a three-game suspension for a first offence.

Still, acknowledging there is a problem is apparently the first step in doing something about it. All eyes are on the NHL. The Prime Minister, politicians of all stripes, socially responsible corporations (good on you Air Canada and Via Rail) and parents deciding whether or not to enrol their kids in hockey have all voiced concern.  

The impact of NHL heroes recklessly hitting the heads of their opponents on the ice is not lost on young kids playing hockey in our communities. If you haven’t been to a minor hockey game recently, you won’t have noticed that head shots has become a common practice. So, it got me to thinking, why is this the case? Why do coaches, parents and administrators tacitly condone this behaviour by doing nothing about it? Here’s a simple example of what I mean: body checking is an integral part of the game of hockey just as blocking and tackling are integral parts of the game of football. When I watch a typical football practice, I see considerable amounts of time spent teaching the fundamentals of proper blocking and tackling techniques. Yet, I’ve been watching minor hockey practices for the last couple of years and haven’t seen one second of practice time devoted to learning how to body check (how to properly administer a body check, how to take a body check, how to slip a body check). I also suspect that minor hockey players, as they listen to their coach’s pre-game speech, have never heard the following, “Guys (gals) I want you to go out there and give it everything you’ve got, every second of every shift. BUT, I do not want you to hit an opponent in the head with your stick or any part of your body. If you do, regardless of whether or not you are penalized by the referee, you will not see another second of ice time in this game and the next.”

Those in a position to do something about the issue of head shots in hockey should no longer protect their heads by keeping them buried in the sand while athletes’ brains are exposed to serious injury with lifelong consequences as a result of their inaction.