When It Comes To Making Our Game Safer, USA Hockey Will Never Rest

The hockey world is in full swing with organizations around the country kicking off another great hockey season.

At USA Hockey, our goal is to encourage a “fun and learning” environment for all participants in the game. We do so by providing support, training and research on important aspects of the game. Thousands of volunteers and staff members are available on the ice and off the ice to grow the game and help make hockey a rewarding experience.

One of the most important functions of USA Hockey is to support efforts to manage the variety of risks in the game. We all know all activities have inherent risks. It’s simply a fact of life that cannot be avoided. Accidents do happen.

However, our organization continues to strive to manage the risks inherent in the game by providing research on causes and effects, by providing education and training to help mitigate or avoid risks, and by providing rules and rule enforcement training that reduce some of the inherent risks in the game.

My hope is that we will do even better in the future in getting more information and training to parents and players on some important but simple safety tips.

An extremely important safety tip is for a player to keep his or her head up when going into the boards. This is a learned skill that every player must learn since our first instinct is to duck to protect our faces. That instinct can lead to devastating results.

The “Heads Up, Don’t Duck” mantra is something that must be ingrained in all of our players, from the tiniest Mite to the most experienced professional player. We must continue to reinforce that “heads up” means to be alert and keep you head up when in contact with the boards.

Since that program was initiated, our rate of catastrophic injuries has been impressively reduced. However, unfortunately accidents still do happen. It is vital that our coaches continue to make it a point at every practice and training session to use the phrase “Heads Up,” reminding players not only to be alert, but also to stay out of harm’s way around the boards.

As the governing body for ice hockey in the United States, it is our duty and our mission to continue to get this information directly to the parents and players on how they can reduce their risk of this catastrophic injury. The question is how. We all get bombarded with so much information. Oftentimes we receive so much information that we tend to tune it out. Even so, we must continue to communicate these important safety tips. 

Hopefully, this column will encourage you to stop and think about “Heads Up Hockey” for just a second and ask your coaches and administrators if your association is doing all it can to get this message out to every parent and player.

We are also looking to create a short, one-page e-newsletter to be sent to parents that could be read quickly and would also provide links to sources with more detailed and comprehensive information on the subject matter.

USA Hockey and its safety and protective equipment committee continue to promote actions to help manage the risks inherent on the ice and in the game. Our risk management committee helps promote and encourage managing the risks around the rink as well. I am so proud of the work we do.

Even though risks continue, the work done on these issues continues in earnest. Each of us needs to make it a point to reinforce “Heads Up Hockey.” Talk about it at meetings or at practices. It is a simple concept that can be easily explained. Also, let’s make ourselves aware of the proper precautions to help prevent or mitigate the effects of concussions.

Let’s work hard to keep hockey a “fun and learning” activity. Taking the time to learn and communicate some very simple safety tips can make the experience more rewarding.


how USA Hockey made the game safer in the past

About a decade ago, My club would show a movie called "Heads up Hockey" to everyone who was going to be involved in youth hockey. They did this at the parent meeting at the beginning of the year.

Not only did the movie show why you should avoid hitting your head but how to avoid concussion situations. Knowing what to do in a bad situation is more important then knowing that your in a bad situation and it is not going to get better.
This drove the point home to everyone, parents, kids and coaches. They all had to watch it. I Never saw the movie again--Too bad. Too expensive I heard. If you want to make the game safer, Mandate the showing of the movie to everyone along with the Heads up hockey program, Including the patches on the uniforms that say -
"stop don't check from behind."

Neal T. Cleary


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