St. Michael’s Hospital’s smart hockey project takes a shot at injury prevention

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Boys playing Atom and Bantam hockey in the Greater Toronto Area this hockey season will be learning more than just how to shoot and score. As part of a new research study being done by St. Michael’s Hospital’s Injury Prevention team, 40 hockey teams from the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) will be participating in a “smart hockey project” aiming to educate young players on preventing head injuries.

“It is estimated that one in 13 hockey players between the ages of 15 and 20 years will have a head injury causing a concussion during a regular season,” says Dr. Michael Cusimano, neurosurgeon and principal investigator on the study. “Our research is targeted at young people with the hopes of changing their thinking at a young age in order to prevent injuries.”

To do this, hockey superstars such as Mats Sundin (Toronto Maple Leafs), Mark Messier (New York Rangers), Cassie Campbell (Women’s Team Canada) and many more have endorsed a concussion prevention video called “Smart Hockey: More Safety, More Fun.” The video was developed by the Think First Foundation of Canada, in partnership with educators, media experts, athletes and health-care professionals from the National Hockey League Players Association, the Canadian Hockey Association, the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine and JOFA. Designed to increase safety awareness among hockey youth, the video discusses the risk of concussions in hockey and offers tips on how to protect yourself and your teammates.

Funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, the research study will use the Smart Hockey video in two ways. “First, we are going to see if the video changes the knowledge levels and behaviour among the young players, and second, we are going to assess the perspectives of coaches, league officials, parents and players and how these relate to injury prevention in hockey,” says Dr. Cusimano. “Our hope is that children will respond to the video because of their admiration and respect for the hockey greats.”

To carry out the research, 40 hockey teams have now been divided into two groups, with only one group receiving the hockey video at the beginning of the season. Teams from both groups will complete questionnaires and participate in small focus groups about hockey playing behaviour and concussions. Coaches, parents and league officials from both groups will also participate by completing the questionnaires at the beginning and the end of the hockey season.

Working with Dr. Cusimano on the study is Amanda Doyle and Tanya Hyland, sports/recreation research co-ordinators with the hospital’s Injury Prevention team, who are spending a lot of time at the hockey arenas this year to gather the data. “The questionnaires and focus groups data will enable us to see how effective the video is by seeing how much information the kids have retained,” says Amanda. “We will also be videotaping selected league games and will be looking at the total penalty minutes from both groups to see if there is a noted change in behaviour among the players who were shown the Smart Hockey video.”

Dr. Cusimano says his hope is that the video will educate hockey youth on how concussions can happen and will make them more aware about the causes of such injuries when playing hockey. “Concussions can have a life-long effect for a person, and unfortunately, concussions in hockey are becoming more frequent,” he says. St. Michael’s Hospital’s Injury Prevention team hopes that if they can show that concussions can be prevented in this way, other sports will likely benefit from a similar approach.

For more information on the smart hockey project, please contact Dr. Cusimano or Amanda Doyle at 416-864-6060 ext. 3114, or by e-mail at smartsport@smh.toronto.on.ca.