Street Hockey: Good Surface, Gear Are Critical

In an era when many children play little but video games, experts are glad to see street hockey is on a roll.

Boys and girls across the country ages 6 and up get regular workouts on organized teams, while others join informal matches on driveways and playgrounds from Boston to Big Sur. What attracts a lot of youngsters is that it's less expensive than regular hockey, and that kids can play it anywhere they can find the space.

In-line hockey is usually safer than the ice-based version. There is nobody checking or sharp-bladed skates, and a water-filled ball often replaces the hard rubber puck. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that each year, almost 67,000 hockey-related injuries to youths under age 15 are treated in hospitals, doctors' offices, clinics, ambulatory surgery centers, and hospital emergency rooms. But authorities on the sport emphasize that good protective gear and safe playing surfaces are crucial.

Tips for safer hockey

  • Wear shoulder pads, hockey-style shin guards, elbow pads, hip pads, groin protectors and gloves. The gloves should be long enough to go well up the forearm, overlapping the elbow pads. Padded hockey pants can also help reduce injuries.

  • Wear a hockey-style helmet with a full face mask and mouth guard properly strapped to avoid concussions and face injuries. Seek equipment approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

  • If eyeglasses must be worn by a player, they should be of approved construction with non-shattering glass (safety glass). Contact lenses also can be worn.

  • Drink plenty of water, both before and during play. A quart an hour isn't too much.

  • Keep your head up in a collision. Players who duck their heads in collisions are more likely to suffer potentially paralyzing spinal cord injuries than those who keep their necks straight.

  • Play on a smooth, flat, clean surface such as a fenced parking lot or basketball court, never in an alley or street. Place cushions against posts, curbs and other potential hazards.

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