|image from Edmonton.ca|
Wanting to read about the UConn women's marvelous basketball victory I leafed through this morning's New York Times sports section only to be drawn to photos of kids playing hockey. Since I have brain injury and sports related concussion on my mind these days I read on. It turns out that some of the Minnesota Youth Leagues--including those in the town where I grew up--have instituted a simple and effective way to minimize injuries and to increase enrollment at the same time.
We have been listening to the NFL grapple with ways to make football safe and school athletic departments are working to lessen the impact of head injury. Now the Hockey Education Program (HEP) from Minnesota shows us how. By simply instituting a system of the "fair play point" which is "an extra point in the standings awarded teams, win or lose, for each game in which they take fewer than a designated number of penalty minutes," they have managed to reduce penalties for hits to the head from 12.4 per 100 games in 2004-05 to only 2 per 100 the following season. In addition, checks from behind which can lead to concussions as well as spinal cord injuries declined by two thirds.
In Quebec where a similar program was implemented in the 1990's they have not only succeeded in documenting reduced injuries but have increased youth registration. I am not surprised since on more than one occasion I have had a despondent boy in my office looking for a way to get out of hockey as he advanced to the older teams where checking and real injury became too threatening.
Coaches to champion teams in Minnesota say they can see that players who have been raised on this new approach to the game play in a more "effective" and elegant as well as safer way. Minnesota players are being recognized as being better players where "lazy penalties and the dumb penalties and the stuff after the whistle" is no longer a distraction from the real sport.
It seems to me that all sports might take a lesson from the Minnesota playbook and realize that we can teach our athletes to do well in their sports without jeopardizing their futures.