June 20, 2022

Bodychecking experience does not lower the risk of injury for teen hockey players

Study provides important evidence for recent and future policy decisions
Hockey players
Bodychecking is allowed in higher age ranges of youth league play.

Youth hockey players with more years of bodychecking experience were at significantly higher risk of concussion than peers who have less bodychecking experience, according to new research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal

"We found that, among ice hockey players aged 15 to 17 years in elite leagues that allow bodychecking, the rates of injury and concussion were more than double for those with more bodychecking experience (three or more years), relative to players with less than two years of experience," says Dr. Paul Eliason, BKin’13, MSc’16, PhD’21, lead author and postdoctoral scholar at the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre (SIPRC) at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology.

Despite strong evidence that disallowing bodychecking in youth ice hockey games reduces injury rates, including concussion, some have argued that gaining experience in bodychecking earlier on may protect players from injuries, including concussions, when they age up to leagues where policy allows bodychecking in games. 

Hockey Calgary has worked closely with SIPRC and are in support of their findings, says Kevin Kobelka, BComm’90, the organization’s executive director.

“Hockey research over the past decade out of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre at the University of Calgary has helped us guide the direction of our programming in recent years,” he says. “In watching U13 hockey since the removal of bodychecking we have seen an increased focus on skill and a higher level of play. We are confident that those who wish to participate in bodychecking streams of play will learn the skills when they reach that category of play. The key is to develop our coaches to properly teach those skills when it is required.”

Researchers collected injury surveillance data on 941 hockey players aged 15 to 17 on 186 teams in Alberta over three playing seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) to determine the association between cumulative years of experience of bodychecking in games where it was allowed and rates of injury and concussion among players. Regardless of duration of bodychecking experience, concussion was the most common injury in this age group, making up more than one-third (34 per cent) of all injuries. 

"This evaluation provides important evidence for the recent, as well as future, policy decisions regarding bodychecking in youth ice hockey, and helps ensure that no unintended consequences have occurred because of these policies," says Dr. Carolyn Emery, PT, MSc’99, PhD, principal investigator, physiotherapist and epidemiologist, Canada Research Chair, SIPRC chair, and co-lead of UCalgary's Integrated Concussion Research Program.

The study’s authors write that it “provides further evidence in support of removing bodychecking in youth ice hockey to reduce rates of injury and concussion." 

Paul Eliason is a postdoctoral scholar at the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary.

Carolyn Emery is the chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, co-leads the Integrated Concussion Research Program, and is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Science in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. She is a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute; the Hotchkiss Brain Institute; McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health; and O’Brien Institute for Public Health. Her research program is also supported by funds from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, International Olympic Committee, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and National Football League Scientific Advisory Board Play Smart Play Safe Program.

The Integrated Concussion Research Program (ICRP) is a university-wide initiative to study concussion, bringing together experts from the Cumming School of MedicineFaculty of Kinesiology and Faculty of Arts, with support from the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI). Community donations through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation funded the creation of the ICRP and provide continuing support.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain InstituteBrain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the University of Calgary toward its Eyes High goals. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community. 

The Faculty of Kinesiology is ranked the No. 1 sport science school in North America and No. 10 globally.