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Pediatrics Academy Recommends Limiting Body Checking in Youth Ice Hockey

Body checking should be restricted to elite levels of boys' ice hockey starting no earlier than age 15, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends in a policy statement published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

According to the policy statement, an estimated 12,590 ice hockey players below the age of 19 are seen in the emergency room for hockey-related injuries annually. From 2008 through 2012, male high school ice hockey players suffered anywhere from 2.03 to 2.56 injuries per 1,000 athlete-exposures (defined as one athlete participating in one practice or competition). The game-related injury rate—4.18 to 6.08 injuries per 1,000 athletic exposures—was second only to boys' high school football.

During the 2013-14 season in both the United States and Canada, checking was prohibited for all youths ages 12 and younger, but leagues with 13- and 14-year-old youths allowed checking in both countries. USA Hockey's board of directors banned full-body checks in the ages 12 and under leagues back in 2011, instead implementing a "checking skill-development program" in its place.

A pair of dangerous hits in late 2011 inspired the National Federation of State High School Associations to make a handful of changes to its body-checking policies. High school ice hockey players are now prohibited from "deliver[ing] a check to an unsuspecting and vulnerable player" in an effort to remove blind-side hits from the game. Players will also receive a major penalty (five minutes in length) and a misconduct penalty (an additional 10 minutes in length) if they "push, charge, cross-check or body-check" an opponent from behind into the boards or goal frame. If officials deem the violation flagrant, the student-athlete will be ejected.

The pediatrics academy notes that proponents of body checking believe earlier introduction of checking programs "will increase skill and decrease injury related to body checking in older age groups," but notes "there is limited evidence to support this potential effect."

Thus, the academy recommends expanding non-checking programs for boys ages 15 and older, while restricting body-checking programs only to elite levels of youth ice hockey for boys in that age group. "Body-checking skills could be taught in practices starting at 13 years of age for those players geared to elite participation," the academy suggests.

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