There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the requirement of helmets in girls and women’s lacrosse. Proponents for protective gear opine that girls must have head protection from injury caused by collision with other players, as well as stick and ball contact to the head. Opponents to the head gear requirement feel that head gear would serve nothing more than to provide a false sense of security for players and actually have the net result of more head injuries.
Further inflaming opponents to head gear is that there is no minimum standard for female lacrosse head gear as there is for male lacrosse players that have had helmet mandates for several decades. This lack of standardization leads to very significant disparities in the various products available for states that have a head gear requirement. It is noteworthy that the governing body of the sport of lacrosse nationally, US Lacrosse, has been one of the most ardent critics of head gear mandates for girls and women’s lacrosse players.
In my home state of Florida, for example, a head gear requirement went into effect 2 seasons ago as mandated by the Florida High School Athletic Association, the governing body of high school athletics state wide. While it is too early to tell what impact this has had on head injury statistics, the lack of any standard for head gear could not be more obvious. Pictured here is the Game Breakers rugby style helmet worn by some programs.
However, once girls became aware that simply putting “something” on their head would suffice to satisfy the FHSAA head gear requirement, the majority have gone with this minimal head band type of protective gear made by Storelli. These are but a couple of the variations available in the lacrosse market even at this time when Cascade has teamed up with US Lacrosse to provide a helmet that satisfies minimum head gear requirements (more on this below). This lack of standardization has essentially made a joke of the head gear requirement, as, regardless of the choice of protective head gear, lacrosse officials have no guidelines as to whether a particular head gear item is acceptable or not.
I am all for efforts to make the sport of lacrosse safer, but to impose protective gear requirements with no standards for what that protective gear should provide makes no sense. This most certainly not one of FHSAA’s finest moments, and that is an opinion shared by the vast majority of girls lacrosse coaches across the state.
At least finally there is a standard that US Lacrosse has signed onto with the help of helmet manufacturer Cascade. They have produced the Cascade LX girls and women’s lacrosse helmet (picture at the top of the page) in accordance with ASTM f3137, the first minimum lady lacrosse helmet standard the fulfills the ultimate goal of girl’s and women’s lacrosse helmets: to reduce the impact forces associate with stick and ball contact to the head.
Still, while US Lacrosse approved of this helmet as the standard, they still do not deem protective head gear in girls and women’s lacrosse with the jury still very much out on the ultimate impact helmets will have on head injuries in the female game. US Lacrosse is simply saying that for those who buy in on the the concept of protective head gear for girls and women, this is the standard.
On the other hand, state regulating bodies such as Florida’s FHSAA will continue to have their own mandates that may disagree with US Lacrosse. Clearly, there is a precedence for state regulating bodies to detour from US Lacrosse stances and recommendations. It is not clear where the requirement goes from here.
With US Lacrosse having a strong track record of best practices and safety, with strong research departments that further support their credibility, my opinion stands with theirs; that is, that head gear should be optional with the science still strongly lacking in support of increased safety for girls playing with protective head gear. In fact, there is credible evidence to the contrary, that head gear may create a false sens of security that encourages more contact an subsequent risk for serious injury.
As such, with the youth lacrosse club I preside over, not under the FHSAA mandate for require protective gear, the requirement use of head gear remains optional.
Dr. Roger Welton was a 4 year starter for Montclair State University and was selected as a First Team All Knickerbocker Conference Midfielder in 1995, 1996. He is the founder of the Viera-Suntree Lacrosse Club and Space Coast Elite Lacrosse Club in Brevard County, Florida.