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Survey shows overwhelming support for safety changes to amateur hockey in Canada

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Strong majority of parents and hockey fans support changes that could dramatically reduce the number of serious head and spine injuries among Canadian hockey youth, Rick Hansen Institute survey shows

Vancouver, March 4, 2013 – An overwhelming number of Canadians, self described hockey fans and hockey parents support changes to amateur hockey that could dramatically reduce the number of serious head, neck, back and spine injuries among youth and teenagers, according to results of a survey released today by the Rick Hansen Institute.

The survey – the first of its kind in Canada to seek feedback from representative samples of Canadians, parents who have kids playing hockey, and fans of the game, 2017 adults in all – gauged support on a variety of possible safety-related changes to amateur hockey, where body checking is allowed in some jurisdictions as early as 11 years old and where an estimated 15% of all injuries to 9-to-16-year old players were attributed to a concussion.

The project, “Protecting Children and Youth: Canada speaks out on preventing traumatic spine and head injuries in amateur hockey,” was conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion for the Rick Hansen Institute, a not-for-profit science-based organization working to accelerate promising research and best health care practices into improved treatments for Canadians living with a spinal cord injury, and to help reduce the healthcare costs associated with spinal cord injury. Three "best practices" have been identified as having the greatest potential of reducing serious head and spine injuries: introducing body checking post age 14, tiering players by one-year increments, and enlarging the size of hockey rinks.

Key findings from the survey of 2,017 Canadian adults include:

  • Two thirds of hockey parents (67%) and four-in-five hockey fans (79%) support delaying the introduction of body-checking until age 15 or older.
  • Two thirds of parents (66%) and seven-in-ten fans (71%) support the idea of having youth only play others of the same age. (Currently, player ages can vary by as much as three years in some divisions).
  • One in six (16%) have considered moving their child to a non-body-checking league.
  • Only 17% think delaying body-checking will hinder their child—half (49%) believe it will make no difference and one-in-four (26%) think it will be helpful.
  • And, only about 7% of respondents oppose enlarging rink sizes to international standards, which some say is another important way of reducing hockey related injuries.

“The safety rules supported by a strong majority of Canadians to reduce head, neck and spine trauma for the youngest athletes will not affect the game of hockey nor the enjoyment of the game for young players,” said Bill Barrable, CEO of the Rick Hansen Institute, who also happens to play adult recreational hockey and is an assistant coach for his son’s novice hockey team in Richmond, BC.

“But these proposals – backed by growing medical and best practice evidence, and some of which are already in place around the world except in Canada – could dramatically reduce sports-related injuries and save Canada’s health care system millions of dollars in emergency, treatment and rehab care.”

The Rick Hansen Institute conducted this survey with guidance from Dr. Charles Tator, a leading authority on sports-related traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries and founder of  ThinkFirst (a national non-profit dedicated to preventing brain and spinal cord injuries), and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Youth under the age of 14 are especially vulnerable to brain trauma because their heads are larger as a proportion of body size while the strength of supporting neck muscles are weaker than are those of more mature athletes, said Dr. Tator.

“There is now enough compelling scientific evidence that children are at higher risk for head and neck injuries (i.e., concussions, spinal cord injuries) when body checking is allowed,” said Dr. Tator. “And medical science has shown strong evidence pointing to lifelong consequences from such injuries that can diminish the quality and length of life in later years. I am optimistic that efforts to prevent concussions and brain injuries in hockey will be successful. For example, efforts to prevent spinal injuries in hockey have in fact been working.”

One study comparing 11-to-12-year-old hockey players in Alberta, where body checking is permitted, with 11-to-12-year olds in Quebec, where body checking is not permitted, showed that there was a 3-fold increased risk of all game-related injuries, including concussion, and other severe injuries, when body checking is allowed. By introducing body checking at a later age, it is estimated that there could be 9,175 fewer serious hockey-related injuries in peewee hockey alone in Canada.

Added Dr. Richard Stanwick, President of the Canadian Paediatric Society: “Sports related head and spine trauma among youth is an epidemic that has worsened in the last decade and immediate changes are needed. The Canadian Paediatric Society is calling on amateur hockey associations in Canada to be on the same page and create national standards that serve to protect young players from avoidable injuries. We believe age restrictions on body checking and the introduction of policies such as tiering of players by one-year increments are critical first steps to improving the game without taking out the fun and physical enjoyment.”

Canadians share strong desire to reduce risk of serious injury for youth

"The overarching message we see from the findings is that a majority of respondents in all three groups –Canadians, parents and fans – wish to delay body-checking, and very few believe that taking steps to do so would be detrimental to players and the game,” said Mario Canseco, Vice-President with Angus Reid Public Opinion and the survey lead.

"Parents of hockey-playing kids are particularly realistic about their children's aspirations, with just seven per cent of them claiming that their child could potentially play the game professionally,” Canseco added. “In addition, one-in-four parents believe introducing body-checking at a later age will help their kid remain physically active and playing the game as an adult."

"The high level of support from all groups to tier youth hockey leagues in Canada by one year age ranges outlines a desire to reduce the risk of injury for young players, and ultimately make the game more enjoyable for all."

 

 

Methodology

From February 22 to February 26, 2013, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 2,017 Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The survey included three distinct representative samples: a sample of 1,013 randomly selected Canadian adults, a sample of 502 parents of children who currently play hockey in a team as part of extracurricular activities, and a sample of 502 adults who regularly attend, listen to or watch hockey. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1% for the sample of Canadian adults, and +/- 4.5% for the samples of parents and fans. The national results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

About the Rick Hansen Institute

The Rick Hansen Institute is a Canadian-based not-for-profit organization with the goal of creating a world without paralysis after spinal cord injury. It works towards this goal by accelerating research and translating clinical findings into practical solutions to develop new treatments, improve care and reduce the cost burden on taxpayers.

For interviews on this report, please contact Dan Maceluch Director, Network Engagement and Stakeholder Relations, 604.707.2114 or

Full Report

Click here for the Full Preliminary Report

Fast Facts

Hockey related injuries

  • 550,000: Estimated number of youth playing amateur hockey in Canada
  • No. 1: Rank of hockey as activity accounting for most sports-related emergency room visits
  • No. 1: Rank of ice hockey as the main cause of sports-related traumatic brain injury.
  • 45-86%: Percentage of hockey injuries caused by body checking
  • $2.1 billion: Estimated annual cost to Canada’s health care system from sport and recreation injuries among children and youth

Hockey and spinal cord injury

  • 500: Estimated number of serious or “catastrophic” head, neck and spine injuries from hockey in Canada each year
  • 10: Estimated number of spinal cord injuries from hockey each year in Canada
  • $3 million: Estimated lifetime cost of treating and caring for someone with a spinal cord injury

Hockey and concussions

  • No. 1: Rank of concussions as the most common type of injury in youth hockey
  • 30,000: Estimated # of concussions or related head injuries reported annually among 12-to-19-year-olds
  • 66%: Percentage of youth concussions due to sports activity
  • 15%: Estimated percentage of all injuries in 9- to 16-year old players attributed to a concussion
  • 9,175: Estimated # of injuries prevented if body checking banned for peewee players across Canada