By: AJ Lee
Every child activity carries an element of risk, whether it is playing tag at recess or participating in youth sports. Ice hockey may not have the same injury rates as football, where over 1 in 4 kids get hurt playing. However, a sport that involves skating on a sheet of hard, slippery ice with a stick in your hand carries inherent risks that need to be minimized in order to ensure that all kids have a fun and productive season. Parents and coaches need to carefully prepare their players and their team to reduce injury risk.
By far, the most important task for a coach is to know and prepare for his players’ histories with injury or sickness. Coaches must get information from parents on a child’s history playing ice hockey, with any pre-existing conditions like asthma or diabetes, or any injuries from last season like broken bones. Coaches should never allow players to enter into a physical game when the player has had issues like concussions, migraines or seizures. Finally, both coaches and parents have the responsibility of medical contacts: the coach should have the number of a trained and licensed medical professional available to come to the game at the exact time; while the parents should have the contact information for their family doctor in the event of an emergency.
Just a few years ago, coaches required players to stretch vigorously before games in order to loosen stiff muscles. More and more scientists, however, have begun to say that this isn’t the best course of action. Reports note that not only do static stretching poses (stretching without movement) weaken the connective power of muscles and lead to tears or pulls, but they fail to add any extra athletic power to a player’s movements. Players can stretch after games in order to develop better flexibility, but time spent stretching should be devoted to warmups that feature active drills and improve muscle memory for game conditions. In case an accident occurs, coaches should keep ice packs available on the bench.
Many injuries come from a lack of water available before, during and after games. While the cold conditions of an ice rink will not exacerbate the loss of water from the body, the pads that protect a player will affect his heat retention and can lead to dehydration. Never try to combat dehydration by loosening pads, as this puts kids at serious risk of harm. Instead, keep a large quantity of water available on the bench and permit kids to drink water any time they require during practices and games. While many players will like to drink Gatorade or other sports drinks, the sugar and salt of these beverages makes a player thirstier in the long run.
When a coach arrives at the rink, his first priority is to conduct a team gear check. Make certain that all helmets have cages properly fitted with no loose screws or straps that could come off during a game. Check skate blades to see if any are wobbly and need to have their rivets tightened. Check the straps on the goalie’s pads to ensure none are loose or fraying. Finally, the coach should consult with the other coach to get the numbers on players’ heights and weights in order to carefully and fairly match one team member against the other. Players of similar skills should play against one another, but it’s dangerous to have equally skilled players on the ice when one is six inches and 30 pounds larger than the other. Finally, coaches should check the rink: make certain that there are no issues with the ice surface, with the boards, and with the bench area. Immediately contact the rink manager whenever a problem needs fixing.
About the author:
AJ Lee is a Marketing Specialist at Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3 and hasn’t put it down yet.