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6 Keys to a Safe Hockey Season

By USA Hockey, 10/10/17, 3:30PM MDT

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There are things you can do to help your kids play safe, and stay engaged if they find themselves on the sidelines

Although there’s really no way to guarantee injury prevention, Kevin Margarucci, USA Hockey’s manager of player safety, says there are things you can do to help your kids play safe, and stay engaged if they find themselves on the sidelines.

Margarucci, who also serves as the medical staff coordinator for USA Hockey’s National Player Development Camps, said the majority of hockey-related eye, facial and dental injuries are preventable.

“Make sure your kids are wearing properly fitted helmets with facemasks and mouth guards,” he said. “By doing so, their risk of injury is drastically reduced.”

The biggest culprit

The single-biggest cause of preventable injury, Margarucci said, is overuse.

“Too many young athletes are specializing in a single sport, and playing it year-round,” he said. “This places a huge amount of repetitive stress on their developing and growing bodies, and it’s common for kids to sustain overuse injuries when they’re performing the same motions over and over again with very little rest or recovery time.”

Rather than focus on one sport, or even one position, Margarucci recommends that youth hockey players become multi-sport athletes, which will help them develop a more well-rounded athleticism.

“Not only will this approach help prevent overuse, it helps kids enjoy being kids, as well as the different sports they’re playing,” said Margarucci. “Down the road, this helps create better athletes – and elite athletes in the long run, for those who end up excelling in their sport of choice.”

Keep injured players engaged

But what happens when kids do get hurt? Continued connection goes a long way to helping sidelined players stay involved, and hold on to their sense of belonging on their team or club.

“Obviously, the biggest negative is not being able to contribute and, for any athlete, it’s a challenge to balance recovery and feeling alienated from your teammates,” Margarucci said. “So, for parents and coaches, it’s important to always try to include your injured players into as much as you can to keep them engaged.”

6 keys to injury-free hockey

Having logged more than 20 years as a certified trainer, Margarucci’s seen it all when it comes to hockey-related injuries. He offers these six tips for you and your kids in hopes of enjoying a fun-filled, injury-free season.

  1. Make sure you get proper nutrition, hydration and sleep. These each help fuel your athletes’ bodies, aid in recovery and fight fatigue – all of which decrease their chances of getting hurt.
  2. Take part in age-appropriate training and conditioning. Simply put, you can’t train 8-, 10- or 12-year-olds like adults. Age-appropriate training (both on and off the ice) helps ensure that each athlete’s workload is catered to their specific needs, and helps prevent overtraining.
  3. Perform appropriate pre-game/practice warmups, as well as post-activity cool-downs. A proper dynamic warmup ensures that your kids are ready for whatever physical activity lies ahead. Meanwhile, a good post-activity cool-down aids in muscle recovery, and helps flush waste from their bodies. Doing both of these on a regular basis can decrease the risk of injury throughout the season.
  4. Participate in more than one sport. By being a multi-sport athlete at younger ages, your kids will experience whole-body athletic development and a reduced risk of overuse injuries.
  5. Wear properly fitting equipment. Wearing equipment that’s the right size and in good condition will ensure that your kids are protected as best as they can be. Equipment that’s too big or too small won’t protect them from the impacts that might occur, and trying to save money by letting young hockey players “grow into their gear” creates bad training habits and leaves them vulnerable to injury.
  6. Promote mutual respect and sportsmanship. Although we’ve listed it last, it’s one of the most important things you can teach your players. Really, this should be key from the beginning, and part of training for any sport. The character traits and coaching habits developed through following the rules helps players play the game like it’s meant to be played, which can ultimately prevent unsafe play

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Dave LaBuda and Scott Zelkin talk Zero Tolerance Policy and Virtual Seminars

It’s an off-season that continues to be full of changes, reactionary and planned, as all of us in the USA Hockey Officiating Department forge forward in the new normal. Our efforts are consistently focused on ensuring safety, fun and development for players, coaches and officials.

One issue that continues to arise is the abuse of officials and the effects it has on retention. To counter and help improve the environment, USA Hockey’s rules sub-committee has been focused and committed to solutions.

This sub-committee was established to define and recommend programs to confront this problem. As a result of this, a first step was taken at the recent Annual Congress to amend the Zero Tolerance Policy. Several proposals were made and adopted by the Board of Directors to constructively confront this problem. 

These changes strongly recommend things like game officials introducing themselves to the coach during warm-ups in order to start the communication process and set some guidelines for in-game communication.

The parents/spectators section was amended to clearly state the behavioral expectations of this group. Another strong recommendation added to this section was to establish a parent/spectator monitor by each local youth hockey team for all games. Ideally, this monitor will address and de-escalate parent/spectator behavior before it impacts the game and the officials have to stop play. 

Also added, a reminder to administrators that they are responsible for taking any appropriate disciplinary action towards parents/spectators that are removed from a game as a result of a violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy.

Navigating New Norms

As we all still grapple with the effects of the pandemic, the Officiating Program has been working to develop effective ways to fulfill our educational responsibilities when it comes to the annual registration process. To that end, the only process that provides educational value and a safe environment is with virtual seminars. A format and curriculum was developed and approved by the District RIC’s. This was distributed to all of the District RIC’s for implementation as they see fit.  Due to the many different and ever-changing restrictions around the country, if the situation arises where in-person seminars can be held then the District RIC can also schedule them as needed. The Virtual Seminar Program is the best solution for this season. As situations change, the Officials Section will revisit this program for all future seasons.

ZoomCasts

Every Tuesday, the Officiating Education Program will present an hour-long webinar on various topics of interest and importance to not only USA Hockey’s officials but the entire membership. These panel discussions will cover topics such as abuse and zero tolerance, communication, player safety, as well as items such as game management and positioning within the three recognized USA Hockey Officiating systems. Panelists will include some of the top officials in the country and other experts from the hockey world whose goal will be to inform, entertain and encourage the USA Hockey community to learn more about officiating.

Mentor Project

Getting officials from their first year to their third season is a key focus for the Officiating Education Program. Helping officials understand the basics of the craft and giving them a supportive resource is what the Mentor Project is all about. USA Hockey is helping local Officials Associations put together the framework where a mentor gets matched with a new official and works with them not only in their first month or second, but is a constant resource for the new official throughout their first couple of seasons. Learning about how to read the rule book, navigate the challenges of getting assignments and become a proficient official are all goals of the mentor project.   

Again, we hope everyone is safe and sane as we prepare for a different landscape of hockey – but we are excited to welcome it, and you, back to the game.

See you at the rink!

USA Hockey's Chief Medical & Safety Officer Says It's Safe To Play Hockey Now