memorial sculptureA sculpture near the Trans-Canada Highway site of the 1986 bus crash commemorates the four Swift Current Broncos players killed.

Swift Current bus crash incident to inform best practices for teams in crisis

A pair of human kinetics researchers are revisiting hockey history in hopes of applying its lessons to ease suffering in the aftermath of tragedy.

Craig Greenham and Todd Loughead have received a $68,000 Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their project “The Broncos: A Social Support Approach to Team Tragedy.”

In December 1986, a bus carrying members of the Swift Current Broncos junior hockey team crashed outside Regina, killing four players.

Drs. Greenham and Loughead hope that examining the event will give them insight into the support needed for those experiencing trauma. Their reading has shown that, too often, young athletes are not given the proper tools to heal the emotional and mental injuries inflicted by tragic events.

The project marries their passion for hockey culture with their interests in leadership and team dynamics to examine the strategies or lack of strategies used to care for the victims. When the franchise won the Memorial Cup championship the following season, it was framed as a Cinderella story, but many of the players suffered unseen wounds that continue to follow them, leaving them with long term depression and substance abuse issues.

“Often times, especially in hockey culture, if you don’t have a broken bone, you’re not hurt,” says Loughead. “We would like to present a framework for players to get the help they need to heal and continue with their lives in the days, weeks, months, and years following a tragedy.”

Greenham adds that because Canadians feel so strongly about hockey, they may not view it through critical lens to ensure the best outcomes.

“Tragedies tend to generate well-intentioned support, but is that support well-designed?” he asks. “We are hoping to create a blueprint for effective emotional care and promote informed policymaking.”

The professors hope to heighten public awareness of the flaws of traditional hockey culture and make meaningful recommendations that can protect a vulnerable demographic, ensuring players’ rights to access necessary social supports.

—Martin Vaughan

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