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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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