Lacrosse

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With New Injury Study, the Issue of Women’s Lacrosse Helmets Rears its Head

7 Aug, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

While everyone agrees helmets prevent injury, the chance of them becoming a national requirement in girls’ and women’s lacrosse is still remote. Just as a heads-up, though: the debate is about to resurface, traceable to new medical research showing that headgear worn during women's lacrosse practice and games can reduce the rate of head and face injuries as well as concussions.

The report, produced by researchers in the Department of Orthopedics at the New York University Langone Health, was presented at the American Orthopedics Society of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting.

The study showed headgear was effective at lowering the rate of head or face injury and concussions in women's lacrosse. Additionally, mandated headgear use was also shown to lower the rate of injury to body locations other than the head or face during practice.

There may someday be a requirement for headgear in women’s lacrosse, but the process of making the change is, at best, like trying to turn a battleship. The debate over head protection has literally been going on for years. It might not stretch all the way back to the Native Americans who originated the game, but it is an ongoing debate.

Some programs – though they are in the minority – have chosen to institute head protection mandates for their girls’ and women’s teams.

In 2017,  Brown University became the first NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse program to require helmets for all players. That same spring, female lacrosse players for high schools on Long Island in New York were given the option to wear standardized lacrosse-specific helmets, but most coaches left the decision to actually wear them up to the individual players, according to Newsday.com. That said, at least seven school made helmets mandatory.

And as far back as 2014, the Florida High School Athletic Association’s groundbreaking decision to make protective soft headgear mandatory for girls’ lacrosse players; the rule took effect in spring 2018. 

In all cases, there was significant pushback from purists, who said such requirements would ruin the women’s version of the game, which relies on strategy and speed, rather than on contact.

“I think it’s an abomination of what this sport is and how it’s meant to be played. It’s a Band-Aid — and doesn’t look at the issue,” Beth Donovan, girls’ lacrosse coach at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, adding that better education of coaches and officials would more effectively help prevent injuries. “We have a sport growing faster [in Florida] than the number of knowledgeable coaches viable for the [proper coaching of] it. We have well-intentioned people who want to help the sport grow, but they don’t know how to properly teach players how to check. With officials, there needs to be more education for checking and how we can hold players accountable during the game.”

But some coaches, having seen increasingly rough play on the field, are taking matters into their own hands. In Baltimore, Maryland, WBAL-TV News noted, a high school girl sustained a serious concussion on the field of play, and after a lengthy and difficult recovery that took her out of school and off the team for several months, her parents insisted, as a condition of her return to lacrosse, that she wear head protection. The coach agreed and made it mandatory for all players on the team. However, it is worth noting that the soft helmets currently being worn by the women in the one Baltimore school, are only able to guard against contusions, rather than concussions. Baltimore officials did try to introduce a measure about helmets in women’s lacrosse in public schools and rec leagues back in 2013, and were promptly shouted down.

To satisfy as many of its constituents as possible, US Lacrosse and the National Federation of State High School Associations announced in August 2018 a list of rule changes and points of emphasis for youth and high school girls’ lacrosse that focus on making the game safer. US Lacrosse, however, still does not require helmet use for female players.

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