In my 15 years of coaching, I’ve had the opportunity to help run a wide range of programs including a women’s team, a developmental ‘clinic’, a high school team and a couple AAA, elite-level teams. I’ve started to notice a trend among the checking-level teams that has stated to concern me: the way kids these days hit with the intent of causing injury. It’s frustrating and it seems to be a product of a generation.
My first experience coaching checking-level boys was at the high school level. It seemed like every hit was intended to knock the opposing player unconscious. Checks were almost always charging or boarding and were usually led with elbows or fists held high. Kids would go out of their way to attempt the big hit, usually resulting in missed contact and a scoring change against. I also noticed that when opposing teams played the same way, our kids took it as a personal slight; some form of disrespect that must be avenged. That vengeance ALWAYS ended with our kid in the penalty box.
The AAA teams weren’t much better. Certain kids showed exceptional confidence and ability and the purpose of the body check in hockey: to gain position or the puck, to stop an opposing player and to tire them out with a constant physical presence. Checking was more of a strategy than an intimidating tactic. Still, several kids thought it was all about YouTube, highlight-reel big hits. And it always elicited “Why?”s in my mind.
This season in the NHL, the number of head hits and clear attempts to injure the opposition seems to have increased exponentially. Grown men playing a dangerous game in a dangerous manner concerns me. I’m not sure if it’s the product of a generation raised on violence, the constant media exposure of the ‘wow’ play or something else. I’m also not sure if it has to do with the area (the kids from other parts of the country played the physical game differently).
I hope something changes. I keep hearing of concussions and other injuries that are unfortunate and unnecessary, what with the advances in the protective equipment kids wear. I just know that in physical sports such as hockey, football and lacrosse, hitting is now done in such a way that it’s become disrespectful of the game. Kids these days have lost sight of the reasons these are physical games.