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Column originally published May 5, 2009

Children Can Enjoy Non-Checking Hockey

Question: We have a great dilemma. Our younger son said recently that he doesnʼt want to play hockey any more. This year, his league started allowing players to check each other, and he was knocked off his skates many times, although he didnʼt get seriously injured. He didnʼt enjoy hockey this year as much as before. Most of the friends that he grew up with are in his team. Our older daughter is sixteen and she is still in the girls league that doesnʼt allow checking, and she enjoys it tremendously. Our middle son used to play hockey, but quit after he was injured a few times and had a concussion which landed him in the hospital. Now he doesnʼt play any sport, and spends a lot of time in front of the computer. We donʼt want our younger son to do the same. We heard that some parents are looking into non-checking hockey. I am worried that his friends may tease him if he goes on a non-checking league. Please give us some advice.


You are not the only parents who question whether they should allow their children to play hockey when body checking is part of the game. I have been asked this question many times, especially when children got seriously injured. The answer is not a simple yes or no.

As we all know, physical activity is very important for the healthy growth and development of children. They have more energy than their parents. It is good for them to be physically active, to burn off this excess energy. Although organized sports like hockey are excellent for children, any physical activity (like running, skipping, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc) with their friends are just as good, and may be even better for development of social skills.

I believe any physical activity is better than watching television or playing video games. I am not condemning TV or video games. Unfortunately, too many children are spending way too much time in front of television and computer monitors. This is one of the reasons why obesity is increasing at such alarming rates in developed countries.

Although we want children to be physically active, we also want them to do it safely. If your son is riding a bicycle, you want to make sure that he wears a proper-fitting helmet which is strapped on nicely before he gets on the bicycle. If he is skateboarding, you want him to put on kneepads and elbow pads as well as his helmet to prevent serious injuries.

The same applies to hockey. All players are required to wear helmets and face protection as well as a mouthguard and paddings. However, depending on where you are and the hockey league he is in, body checking is allowed once children reach a certain level and age. Body checking does increase the chance of injury, although it still occurs when no body checking is allowed. I have seen many children with concussions, fractures, joint dislocations, and internal injuries. Fortunately, none of the ones that I have seen suffered serious or permanent damage. However, serious and fatal injuries do occur every year in North America as a result of playing hockey.

As the level of competitiveness increases, so is the chance of serious injury. The worst part, I believe, is allowing players to fight. Some argue that this is an integral part of hockey and should not be banned. When temper flares, hockey sticks go up and fists start flying. Many players have suffered serious concussions, broken bones, and even death from fighting on the ice.

Certainly high level hockey demands competitiveness. It is a very physical game and requires players to be strong both physically and mentally. However, not every child is built to play high level hockey. Many children donʼt enjoy getting hit and crashing on ice or against the board. They enjoy all the other aspects of hockey, just not the body checking part.

In many sports, there are higher level players and lower level players. Those who have the right attributes will progress to higher levels, while others can continue to enjoy the sport but at a lower level. This is true of running, swimming, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, basketball, baseball, tennis, and many others. You get the picture. Not everyone is born to be an elite athlete. We donʼt need to be an elite athlete to enjoy a sport. Every child should be able to enjoy a sport at the level that he or she is comfortable with.

The trouble with hockey is that it is sometimes the only winter sport in a community. As you have said, all your sonʼs friends are in the team. If he leaves this team, he is going to lose his friends. This is a difficult dilemma.

If your son enjoys playing hockey, but he doesnʼt like the body checking part, then it really make sense for you to explore the non-checking league in your community. Many provinces already have this league set up for children and adults so that they can enjoy every aspect of the sport, without the fear of getting hurt when they see someone skating towards them. Take the fear out, and he can enjoy the sport much more.

Some of his present friends in the team may also decide to join him later, if they come to realize that they donʼt enjoy the body-checking also. He can also make new friends in the non-checking team. It is far better that he stays in hockey instead of spending much of his leisure time in front of television or computer monitor. He will be more healthy than his older brother.

I hope this explanation can help you make the right decision for your son. It is entirely possible that your older son may become interested in hockey again if he finds out that there is an alternative to the checking hockey. Good luck.