Checking, or slamming your body into another player, is part of the game of hockey. However, size differences at the Pee Wee level (ages 11 and 12) may be responsible for an increased risk of concussion or other serious injury when kids are allowed to check at this age. Canadian researchers report a threefold increase in injuries compared to play where checking is prohibited.

Carolyn Emery, an associate professor of sport epidemiology at the University of Calgary, led a research team that published their findings in the June 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"If body checking were not permitted in Pee Wee ice hockey, we would estimate that this would reduce the risk of injury by over 1,000 injuries and 400 concussions among the nearly 9,000 Pee Wee-level children playing hockey in the Canadian province of Alberta."

Emery told Health Day News she would like to see changes in the policies regarding body checking at this level of play.

"Coaches and parents need to understand that in Pee Wee ice hockey there is a significant risk of concussion and injury associated with body checking," said Emery, who is also the parent of two hockey-playing children.

Not unsurprisingly, researchers found that it was the smallest players who were the most likely to get injured.

"We have kids that are ranging from 70 pounds up to almost 200 pounds in this age group," Emory said, "and we have demonstrated in this study increased risk for injury in players who are in the lowest 25th percentile by weight."

How Old is Old Enough to Check?

In a March 2000 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended prohibiting the practice of checking among kids under 15 years of age. They also stressed the importance of teaching good sportsmanship programs, such as the fair-play concept, in order to reduce injury and penalty rates at levels of youth hockey. They believe players, coaches, and parents all need to be educated about the rules, the importance of following them, and the dangers of body checking another player from behind.

My ten-year-old and twelve-year-old both play ice hockey. In our league, body checking is allowed starting at the Pee Wee level. But they are not yet Pee Wees; they are still Squirts. Much as I love to watch their aggression at the rink, I have to admit I’m worried about what happens when they advance — especially my daughter, not very big and the only girl on her team and most of the teams she plays against.

What do you think? Should young players be taught the “right” way to slam into another player at a young age or wait until they are older?