In his latest blog, TSN analyst Bob Mckenzie makes a case for waiting until minor hockey players are older before introducing bodychecking into the game. His reasoning is essentially boils down to that if checking is introduced at age 10 as opposed to age 12, injuries related to body contact increase threefold.
There are numerous studies that support Mckenzie's stance, but the likelyhood of injury should not be the determining factor in this argument.
Bodychecking is currently introduced at the Peewee level (age 11-12) in 9 provinces, the Atom level (age 9-10) in 3 and not until Bantam (13-14) in Quebec.
The argument for introducing it at an earlier age is that if kids are taught the fundamentals of hitting at an earlier age when everyone is more or less the same size, they will carry these skills forward in a safe and responsible manner when they hit puberty and size differences begin to become an issue.
The argument for waiting until later is that kids lack the coordination and cognitive abilities to fully understand the technique of delivering a proper check. Studies back this claim up as many have shown that introducing checking at an earlier age does not reduce that risk of injury later on and in fact increases risk of injury in younger players.
As a former minor hockey player myself, I would have to say that I fall into the "earlier is better" camp. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that hitting should be legal at all levels of hockey. Let me explain.
I believe that bodychecking should be viewed as a fundamental skill in the same way that skating, passing and shooting are. Too many players view checking as somehow different from the other skills of hockey. The point of a check is to separate an opposing player from the puck, thereby allowing you or your teammate to gain control. All too often young players can't wait to reach the checking age because all they want to do is run over smaller opponents.
The idea that children in the 6-10 age group lack the cognitive ability to understand bodychecking is simply not true. As most educators will tell you, the really formative years of a child are when they are between the ages of 6-10. It is during these years that the foundations of safe contact should be layed. This leads to my next, and perhaps most important point.
Hockey Canada needs to change the way that hitting is taught. There are currently four "levels" of hitting in the Hockey Canada guidebook; positioning and angling, stick checks, body contact, body checking. I would add a fifth level, respect. As I mentioned earlier, too many players simply want to cause pain to their opponent instead of hitting properly. This is due to the lack of respect that is rampant at all levels of hockey.
If kids are taught to respect their opponent and to respect the art of hitting from the moment they begin to play organized hockey, then this will, hopefully, cease to be an issue.
Let me know what you think in the comment section. That was why I wrote this, to spark some debate. And if any of my facts are wrong about when hitting is introduced, pleae correct me.