A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that U-11 ice hockey players who played in an Alberta, Canada, league that allowed body checking were more than three times as likely to suffer concussions and other serious injuries compared with kids who played in an Ontario league that banned body checking. Now, the mechanisms of injury in lacrosse are a bit different than those in ice hockey, since players skate on a rock hard sheet of ice surrounded by solid dasher boards. But the possibility that body contact may expose young lacrosse players to increased risk of serious injury is certainly worth careful reflection.
We already know that adults – whether they are coaches, league administrators or parents – too often project adult values and priorities on young athletes. We also know that those same adults determine the experience our young athletes will have based on those same adult values and priorities. Decisions on what rules a particular youth lacrosse league or tournament follows, for example, are driven more often by tradition (“We’ve always done it that way"…Our kids can handle it"…The parents of my players want it...”) rather than an understanding and appreciation of the stages of physical and cognitive development young bodies undergo. US Lacrosse-recommended youth rules for boys’ lacrosse prohibit body checking until the U-13 age level for precisely these reasons, but more than a few youth leagues and tournaments choose not to follow them. Allowing “take-out” checks in boys’ lacrosse at an early age does nothing to expedite a child’s development as a lacrosse player; it actually distracts young players from focusing on skill development and interferes with opportunities for confidence building. Just as concerning, many kids (and their parents) may be turning off to the game because they are neither emotionally nor physically prepared for body contact. What do you think?
On a related note, US Lacrosse has initiated discussions with the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Rules Committee and the NFHS Boys’ Lacrosse Rules Committee about establishing a specific rule that would severely penalize a player who uses his helmet or arm to make contact with an opponent’s helmet. Spearing – when a player lowers his head and initiates contact with the top of his helmet – has long been illegal because of the high risk of spinal injury it creates. More and more, however, players are making initial contact with their body and following through with their forehead and/or arm into an opponent’s helmet. This is the type of contact that is not consistent with the intent of the rules and, accordingly, equipment was never designed to protect against. It significantly increases the potential for a concussion injury – both to the player receiving the blow and the player initiating the contact – and has no place in the game. From what I have seen and heard, few players are being taught how to properly and safely initiate body contact with an opponent, and US Lacrosse is now focused on developing that component of our coaching education curricula. I’ll keep you posted on these efforts.