Youth Ice Hockey: Zero Tolerance for Head Hits

Good Ole' Hockey Culture Versus Seat-belts



We are now more educated as a culture about concussions and injuries to the head and neck. We must change the game of youth ice hockey in accordance to what we have learned.

Prevention is the only way to reduce harm to our children. You do not fully prevent harm by suspending players after the fact. You prevent harm by significantly reducing the occurrence of contacts to the neck’s and head’s of our children. A new rule must be put in place to address this.

Youth Ice Hockey: Zero Tolerance for Head Hits

Good Ole’ Hockey Culture Versus Seat Belts
By Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C
Follow My Blog Gameonyouthicehockey

Good Ole’ Hockey vesus Seat-belts

Hockey is a physical sport. Yes it is.

The “good ole hockey culture” has said to me, at times, something like this… “I remember when I got a concussion on a Saturday and played Sunday and had to walk home through the snow.” They are often polite and sincere. I always wonder to myself, as I am waiting for them to finish, if they passed my dad who had to walk a mile in the snow to get to school. Uphill. With wild dogs in the woods that would chase him.  Who cares! That is why the innovators created bus routes and established better ways to get children to school. They wanted the remove the hardship and barriers for the children so they could get to what is important… School.

So I agree with the GOHC. Hockey is physical sport. But I disagree with putting today’s children through their past pains. We know more today about concussions and head injuries then we did yesterday or way back when I was… Search the Mayo Clinic.
Hockey is NOT a reckless sport. And the GOHC agrees with me there.

Hockey is also a highly skilled sport. It can take a decade to master all the skills.

But is hockey a dangerous sport?

Is hockey a safe sport?
Well… driving a car can be dangerous but is it also safe? Well, safer then years ago? Has it been made safer over the years based on what we learned as a responsible culture? See, you can’t say it is safe because their is an inherent danger to driving much like playing hockey. So maybe driving is a physical sport. But driving has been made safer. Right? Original auto glass was like your house window glass. When an accident happened people were killed by glass shards plunging into their face, neck and chest. Someone invented a coating process that now has glass shattering in a controlled way. Thank God for that innovator. They made driving safer. The good ole drivers had to deal with glass shards. Does that mean we should today?

Then came seat belts. One side said we don’t need them and the other side said it won’t prevent the inherent dangers of driving but it will reduce death and injury to the drivers. Innovative, I’d say. I think the idea of seat belts caught on. And the innovators were right. Less injury and death. That is a good thing. Right?
So aren’t all hockey penalties preventative? Yes. They are just weak. They are old and weak. Innovation is about new and better. “Ah the rules are there… that damn ref always blows the call…. if the coach would have just sat his player… that would not have happened.”  This is said in every game or at least every other game. It is the GOHC excuse to keep the old and weak rules in place. Blame someone… the rules are there. Well the rules (how do I phrase this in the behavioral biz)… SUCK. They don’t impact/change the behavior of 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 year olds to a significant degree. To the best degree. To the best of our ability. Innovate. Behavior can be better shaped with immediate and stronger penalties. Penalties that enhance the safety of our children and allow the physical play of hockey to continue.



This is a true preventative rule on two fronts.

Any player making contact to the neck or head of a player or contacting a player that causes impact to the head or neck shall be immediately suspended from in-game play. A penalty of this nature occurring in the third period will include a next game suspension. An additional penalty, based on current rules will also be called and served by the team. Additional penalties may be imposed on the player that prevent them from returning to the next game.

First front: (Here is a game example
The Penalty Box
#6 elbow to head, #6 Roughing contact to head, #6 2 and 10 for boarding (head contact)
The Game
#6 comes out from his third penalty with at least one contact to the head or neck of another player.

The Hit
#6 hits somebody, a fourth time (YOUR CHILD), in the head and into the glass. The player is injured and has a concussion.
The After Game Suspension
#6 gets a 2 game suspension and a stern talking too.

The above represents the current game and culture of hockey. It is from a real game. It is actually an example that fits two games with the same outcome. Both games I have witnessed. Where is the prevention here? Look hard… it’s there. It is in found in the 29 other boys on the ice. See this NEW RULE is about 1 or 2 kids a game. NOT the other 25 or 30 that play safely, respectfully and fairly. The current rules work for them but the players following the rules are still getting hit an injured. The current rules don’t prevent #6 from going back onto the ice and hurting someone. A ZERO TOLERANCE rule for neck and head hits would have prevented two boys I know from getting concussions. The players that hit the heads of two boys were already penalized for making contact to the head and neck of a player. The current rules failed to protect the now injured boys. FAILED.  Why let those penalized players on the ice again in those games? This is not the NHL. It is youth ice hockey. They have to sit out and think about it. No head hits. Innovation is what we need.

CHECK THE WRONG WAY (safety and respect) YOU DON’T PLAY

That slogan is short and simple and easy for a 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old to remember and understand. This penalty is truly preventative because it would have removed 2 players from that game that went on to injure players in the third period. Think about it. Their initial head or neck contacts didn’t harm a player. But it would have caused the players to sit out the rest of the game. Why are we waiting for an injury to occur? Just sit them. Focus on the other respectful players not the ones hitting in the head and neck. Accidental, first offense, intentional or done in anger – just is irrelevant. Sit them. The boys that made a mistake won’t be doing it again for a long long time. The others well… now we have a penalty that gets them out of the game ASAP so the other boys can play. Real penalties for any neck or head contact.

There is no better penalty to prevent head and neck hits then a penalty that is about head and neck hits. It is a no brainer. This penalty is not about intent or severity of the hit. It is to teach the players control and what we have ZERO TOLERANCE for as adults in a youth ice hockey league. A no brainer.

Second front:

Well I already hinted to it. The new penalty is immediate and severe in a child’s mind. If I do this – I immediately can’t play. It is a better penalty of immediate consequence. It hurts and penalizes the player and it hurts and penalizes the team. No 2 minute, 5 minute, 2 and 10 BS. Cut and dry. Cut and dry. Did I say cut and dry?

Now, I did have one issue that actually was clarified late last night as I thought. My son was hit with 6 minutes to go in the above game example while coming up the boards. The player came in to check him shoulder to shoulder but raised his forearm and plowed my son’s head into the board. He did get a concussion. The player got 2 minutes for roughing. Nothing for head contact. The NEW PENALTY would have addressed that. This player wasn’t previously penalized. It wasn’t particularly violent or aggressive. BUT BUT it still gave a player a concussion. Because hockey is a physical sport we can’t always prevent the initial hit. We can better reduce initial hits but not prevent all of them. But, as I thought, that team also had 10 to 15 penalties called that game. That is what seems well like… a coaching issue. Many of these penalties had to do with neck and head contact. Why leave discipline fully in the hands of coaches? I don’t know them from Jack. Do you?



We can no longer expect the Referee or Coaches to make the right decisions when it comes to the safety of our children. We don’t know them. It doesn’t happen consistently and will never happen for a plethora of reasons. The referee in one of the games above, was amazing. He threw people out. He dished out a bunch of standard penalties but the team kept racking up penalty after penalty after penalty. At what point should it stop. I mean the game. At what point should the game be ended?

A coach once asked a referee what would happen if he stopped the game late in third because the game was out of hand. Do you know the penalty for that coach and club, for stopping the game and refusing to play, is greater and more severe then some of the punishments for hitting players in the head and injuring them. Check it out for yourself.

Rules need to keep games under control and end games that get out of control. No middle ground.

Any team that  has  (lets say four) 4 players penalized for delivering hits to the neck or head, in one game, will forfeit the game. The game will end. The coach will be suspended one game and subjected to additional penalties.

Ouch coach. You better teach discipline. You better teach your players how to properly check. You better teach them you can’t take runs at players. You better teach them to stay off the head and neck of the smaller players. You better teach them that boarding is bad. This new rule hurts. Better to hurt the coach and team then send a child to the ER. Right? Who gives a flip about protecting the guilty. Let’s improve safety and focus on the 95% of respectfully players and strong coaches. Stop protecting the problems and support the victims. Argh. *steps off soapbox*


In Summary

ZERO TOLERANCE to neck and head hits will reduce the number of injuries in the game of youth ice hockey. Because hockey is a physical sport, injuries will occur. Innovation and culture change will reduce injury to our children. These two rules will prevent 1000’s of head and neck hits and prevent 100’s of injuries. Not making this change now is… only putting your child at risk.

This good ole hockey culture (GOHC) ISN’T the club, the league, the referee or USA Hockey. It is us. It is everyone. It is a culture that I hope we can change and create a Zero Tolerance culture for head and neck hits. Simply put, if you hit a player in the head or neck… You don’t play the rest of the game. Think about it.

How many concussions come from a player that has hit a child in the neck or head for the 2nd time in a game? Because hockey is a physical sport… it doesn’t have to be a reckless sport.  If your child has been hit in the neck or head by a player that already exhibited this behavior in a game… it could have been prevented with a new rule that is basically – one and done that game. Help me change this culture we all currently support and make youth ice hockey safer for our children.

Please pass this link on to everyone you know. Please send it to anyone involved in youth ice hockey. We are the good ole hockey culture and need to change our tolerance. Let’s become innovators. Let’s reduce the number of head and neck hits in youth ice hockey and in turn reduce injuries. Let’s bring the Good Ole back to youth ice hockey in a different way this time. A new culture can only be achieved if we all act to change. Let’s reduce the risk of harm to children. We can’t prevent it. We can reduce it.