Is Women’s Hockey a Contact Sport?

Is Women's Hockey a Contact Sport?

Contact In Women’s Hockey

When people think about contact sports, they generally don’t think about sports played by women. Perhaps the most well-known contact sport is American football, which is traditionally played by men. Although hockey is known to be a contact sport as well, some people might wonder if this is still the case when talking about women’s hockey.

Women’s hockey can be seen as a contact sport in some ways, but it is not nearly as physical as men’s hockey. Body checking, which is a big part of many hockey games, is not generally allowed in women’s hockey because it is seen as too dangerous of a move. Some body contact is permitted, however.

If you want to know more about women’s hockey and how it is played, read on. You might learn some interesting information about how much contact is really a part of this sport.

Contact in Field Hockey vs. Ice Hockey

People who aren’t very familiar with hockey might not be aware of all of the differences between field hockey and ice hockey beyond the obvious, which is that field hockey is played on grass and ice hockey on the ice.

However, there are some significant differences in the ways in which these sports are played, particularly as related to the amount of contact that players have with one another.

Field hockey has become less physical than it used to be in recent years, as mentioned in our article looking into if field hockey is a non-contact sport. Now, there is more of an emphasis on skill. However, ice hockey is naturally a very physical game. Unlike field hockey players, who are just running on grass or turf, ice hockey players are skating at high speeds. Because of this, body checking can be a very big part of the game.

You can see this simply in the equipment that the players wear. Field hockey players typically wear much less protective gear than do ice hockey players.

The goalies of both sports have a lot of padding, but this isn’t really the case with the rest of the players. The goalies don’t have a lot of physical contact with the other players, but they have to be prepared for pucks coming at them.

Ice hockey goalies, in particular, deal with a very high volume of shots and need to be prepared for the pucks to come at them from pretty much any direction.

This is not to say that ice hockey is all about physicality, and you may be interested in reading our article covering why hockey is a contact sport. In fact, in recent years, ice hockey teams that put more of an emphasis on skill rather than bodychecking have been experiencing more success in competition.

There is an amount of contact required in both field hockey and ice hockey, but ice hockey is more inherently physical. However, both of these versions of the game are becoming more focused on skill, so we could say that they are moving away from being contact sports.

Because field hockey is inherently less physical than ice hockey, to begin with, we are going to focus on ice hockey in our discussion of body contact in women’s hockey games.

What Is Body Checking?

We have mentioned that body checking is a big part of ice hockey in particular. You might wonder now, what exactly is body checking?

Body Checking happens to be a defensive move where a hockey player uses force on another player to take the puck away from that individual. During this move, the defensive player will purposefully use the upper body to hit the other person with force. This can be done while either moving in the opposite or the same direction.

This move involves basically crashing into the opponent, usually leading with the shoulder or hip. The result is going to be a powerful collision in almost every case. It is not just about separating the player from the puck but also about intimidation.

There is also a move that is referred to as body contact, which is something different. Body contact is a defensive move used to block a member of the opposing team who has the puck. The player will make a move to stop this individual by putting his or her body in the way. However, it doesn’t involve pushing, hitting, or shoving.

Body checking is actually not always allowed in hockey games. Typically, it’s introduced at the bantam level, which is played by those who are 13 or 14 years of age. This is covered more in-depth in our article on how to introduce body checking to youth hockey players. It’s not allowed in girls-only hockey at young ages and typically not allowed in women’s hockey either.

The Rules of Body Checking

Body Checking is a very big part of many hockey games. It’s a big part of the entertainment factor. However, it also introduces quite a bit of danger into the game. It is a significant cause of injuries among hockey players. Because of the potential injuries, there are rules that limit what players can do as far as body checking goes.

Some of the most dangerous body checking can happen on the open ice rather than around the periphery of the rink. In these cases, both players are moving at a fast speed and can bump into each other with a great deal of force.

This is why when body checking is involved; hockey players are taught very early on to make sure always to be conscious of where the members of their team and those of the opposing team are on the ice. They need to have this awareness to be prepared for anyone who might be coming at them at any moment.

One significant role when body checking is allowed is not to target the head. Head injuries can be very serious, and other body parts, such as elbows and shoulders, can cause lasting damage to a player’s head. Players are also not supposed to hurt other players if they can control it, at the risk of being punished if they do end up hurting someone on the ice.

If someone checks another player above the shoulders, they may have to deal with a game misconduct, a match penalty, a major, or a double major. There may be a more substantial penalty or even a suspension if the opponent is significantly injured.

The rules regarding body checking actually vary quite a bit depending on the league. Some leagues don’t allow it at all because they are very focused on protecting the players from injuries. Checking is generally permitted in high school and college hockey leagues.

Women who play as a part of the International Ice Hockey Federation are not allowed to check as defined by rule 541 and will be assessed a penalty based on the type of check performed.

However, these rules can’t be seen as consistent, as they are changing on a fairly regular basis. The emphasis is generally on the protection of the players from injuries. However, the fact that checking is popular with the fans and makes the games quite a bit more interesting has to be taken into consideration as well.

Different Types of Body Checking

Different types of body checking take place in various situations within a hockey game. To a spectator with an untrained eye, it just appears to be two players crashing into each other. However, if the players use particular techniques, they can prevent injuries to both themselves and the players who are receiving their impact.

The two primary types of body checking involve the shoulder check and the hip check.

Hockey Shoulder Check

In this type of body checking, the player will lead with his or her shoulder when approaching their opponent. However, the player who is doing the checking needs to keep his or her elbow tucked in. Otherwise, a penalty can happen, especially if the elbow poses any kind of risk to the opponent’s head.

Hockey Hip Check

This type of check involves a player bending down and hitting their opponent with their hip, which they lead with in their movement.

Illegal Checks

As previously mentioned, many types of body checking are not allowed in a typical hockey game. The officials will assign penalties for different illegal checks, including the following:

  • Cross-checking. If a player holds the hockey stick in both hands with his or her arms extended outwards and uses the stick to impact the opponent, this * is not allowed.
  • Boarding. This is when a player checks a defenceless opponent into the boards in a manner that can be deemed dangerous. Typically, the player’s face or head will make an impact with the boards, and injury is likely in this scenario.
  • Charging. This is when a player takes a minimum of three strides going into a check or launches their entire body into the opponent. Either one of these will cause them to hit the opponent with more force and potentially lead to severe injuries.

Even though these types of checks might effectively separate the player from the puck, they also make injuries very likely.

Contact in Women’s Ice Hockey

Body contact is a fairly regular part of women’s hockey. However, body checking is typically not allowed. If a player delivers a body check in a women’s hockey game, she will usually get a two-minute minor penalty. Of course, there are some exceptions, depending on the rules and stance that a particular league takes.

The rules of hockey, particularly those surrounding body checking, are generally meant to protect the players. This is why safety is a significant consideration when deciding whether or not body checking should be incorporated into women’s ice hockey.

The Case for Body Checking

It may seem counterintuitive, but body checking may actually make women’s ice hockey safer. If body checking were a regular part of women’s hockey, women would be trained to play with constant vigilance, always keeping their heads up. Some of the injuries that currently occur in women’s hockey result from players not paying close enough attention to their surroundings.

People who believe that body checking should be made a mainstream part of women’s hockey argue that women who play are currently getting hurt because they are not trained to protect themselves from body contact. The majority of injuries in women’s hockey games take place due to incidental contact, as opposed to intentional body checking.

Typically, women and girls become injured when they are fighting for the puck close to the boards and right in front of the net. One of the main factors that lead to these injuries is a lack of awareness that they are about to be hit, even if it is an accidental hit. This is usually not the case with men’s hockey players, who are accustomed to body checking and continuously aware that they might get hit at any moment.

Men’s hockey players have generally mastered the “heads up” style of hockey playing, where they are continually expecting a check. In contrast, female hockey players may tend to skate around the rink with their heads down. In doing so, they are generally not going to be ready for any body contact that comes.

One way to help with this issue is to practice stickhandling a puck or ball at home using our Stickhandling PRO training software. This allows the player to practice stickhandling a real puck or ball while keeping their head up to move a virtual puck in a video game in order to avoid obstacles in the game or drill. If they looked down at the puck or ball, they wouldn’t see what is happening in the game on the screen.

Players who are aware of an impending check have different options available:

  • They can get out of the way. Typically, this will be the safest and most prudent choice. Still, it’s not always possible given the amount of time they have until the contact occurs.
  • They can take the full brunt of the hit. Basically, this involves being very passive, and it presents the most risk for injury. However, because many female players are not taught how to deal with contact properly, this is what usually ends up happening if they have to deal with a check.
  • They can initiate contact with the other player. Instead of being passive, the player can be proactive. If the player is not in a position where she can avoid the check entirely, she can take a step towards the opponent who is attempting to check her and lean into them, which will decrease the amount of force they will deliver into her.

Generally, if women have to deal with this possibility while playing, they are going to be more vigilant and prepared for it. They are less likely to experience the injuries they currently experience, often due to a lack of awareness of their surroundings.

The purpose of not allowing body checking in women’s games is to prevent injuries, yet many injuries happen anyway. In fact, there are more concussions in women’s hockey than any other NCAA sport. Learn more in our article about concussion statistics in youth hockey and how to avoid them.

Women generally don’t focus on making their frame as strong as possible or keeping their centers of gravity as low as they can. When they skate into the boards, they generally don’t keep their feet moving. These things all mean that when they get hit, they are more likely to get seriously injured.

Proponents of body checking in women’s hockey games would say that if they learned how to take a hit and be more vigilant, they would be less likely to get seriously injured in the way they do now.

The Case Against Body Checking

Although many people would say that body checking will make women more aware of their surroundings in the rink, many would say that this is unnecessary. These individuals would say that it is possible to train women to play “heads up” hockey and be more aware of their surroundings without incorporating body checking into the game.

Generally, it might be a much better idea to train women to keep their heads up while playing and be active rather than passive. However, this does not require that they check each other. As mentioned, our training software can also help with this.

Many feel that incorporating body checking into women’s hockey would take away what makes it enjoyable. While technically very similar to men’s hockey, women’s hockey is very different to watch because of the various rules. Women’s hockey is more about skating and multiple types of skills that don’t involve the same level of physicality.

Women’s hockey is more about tactics and calculation rather than brute force. Men’s hockey does include these elements, but the focus on body contact does make it a noticeably different game.

There is plenty of body contact allowed in women’s hockey, wherein players make contact with one another. However, there are no clear attempts using the arms, shoulders, or hips to physically force their opponents away from the puck in this type of body contact.

Essentially, women are allowed to make contact with other players to try to get the puck, but they can’t be too pushy and aggressive about it.

In either game, the goal of both teams is to possess the puck and score as many goals as possible, and many would say that this is showcased very well in women’s hockey as it is now.

Conclusion

Women’s hockey can somewhat be seen as a contact sport, as can be said for almost any team sport. However, it is not nearly the contact sport that men’s hockey is. Body Checking is a large part of the contact that spectators see in men’s hockey and is not always legal in women’s hockey.

However, just because body checking is not a part of the game does not mean that it is not entertaining to watch. There is still plenty of action, mostly between the players and the puck, as well as a limited amount of body contact between players.

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