The official philosophy regarding lacrosse headgear for women has changed. It is now: You don’t have to wear it, but if you do wear it, we’re going to make sure it comes up to our specifications.
According to US Lacrosse, the headgear performance standard for women’s lacrosse was formally approved by members of ASTM Committee F08 that oversees sports equipment. Representatives from US Lacrosse serve as members of Committee F08 and worked collaboratively within the ASTM structure to develop the performance standard over a period of two years. The approval was finalized at the semi-annual ASTM International meeting, held in late May in Anaheim.
The standard, WK36457, Specification for Headgear Used in Women’s Lacrosse, was introduced in 2012. That standard is not a rule; it is not meant to mandate headgear for women as part of the uniform, but instead creates guidelines as to what constitutes a safe and proper piece of equipment for the sport.
Ann Kitt Carpenenti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse and co-chair of ASTM Subcommittee 508.53, the women’s lacrosse headgear task group, noted that rules have always allowed for soft headgear to be worn by women to protect a pre-existing injury but that the past few years’ attention to head trauma have shaped the need for the standard.
This may be a benchmark moment in the continued evolution of girls’ and women’s lacrosse, especially as it relates to increased safety for all game participants,” said Carpenti. “US Lacrosse appreciates the contributions of all our ASTM partners that helped us in this significant endeavor to make the game safer.”
ASTM protocol required US Lacrosse to serve as a partner with representatives from many other groups, including equipment manufacturers, product testing laboratories, researchers, and lacrosse governing bodies. The need for scientific research and data to help guide the development of the standard has been one of the committee’s priorities.
“Incorporating the results from the scientific testing has been critically important,” said Bruce Griffin, director of health and sport safety at US Lacrosse and one of the principle authors of the draft standard. “Those results helped to shape the specifications that form this standard.”
Once the standard is published, rules-writing bodies will be able to consider what changes may be needed to the rules that govern girls’ and women’s lacrosse. US Lacrosse writes the rules for youth girls, high school girls, non-varsity collegiate women and post-collegiate women. The NCAA writes the rules for women’s varsity collegiate play.
While no piece of equipment has been proven to prevent concussions, the goal for US Lacrosse has been to develop a product that would serve as an intervention for head impact.
“We have understood the need to utilize due diligence in developing the performance standards based on scientific data, and in creating a product that will not change the unique culture of the women’s game,” Carpenetti said. “US Lacrosse remains committed to the promotion of a holistic approach to game safety.”
US Lacrosse maintains that protective equipment represents just one essential element in producing a safe playing experience. Having certified coaches with sport-specific education, utilizing trained and certified officials, and mandating the use of age-appropriate rules are critical safety components as well.
Current women’s lacrosse rules allow for use of “soft” headgear, and a number of such products have emerged on the marketplace. None of the products currently available meets the new ASTM standard and US Lacrosse does not endorse any of them.
The issue of helmets in women’s lacrosse has been a subject of debate for years. Florida was the first (and to date only) state to mandate soft protective headgear for girls, and that decision was hotly contested. Proponents hailed it as a way to protect players in what they saw as an increasingly aggressive sport, while opponents said it was unnecessary and would simply make the game – which was supposed to rely on strategy – more physical.