Get Your Head in the Game

By: Erin Callahan

You wake up in the morning and jump out of bed to head to the locker room. As you are walking in, you can hear your favorite song, “Big Rings”, blaring from the speakers and your teammates singing along with the chorus. You walk to your locker and see your home uniform neatly hung on a hanger. Your adrenaline already starts pumping. You slip it on, tightly lace up your cleats, and grab your gear. The gear now includes a helmet, which is a new change you really don’t enjoy.

When game time finally arrives, you’ve never been more prepared to play, except for the fact that you’ve had to adjust to wearing a weird thing on your head, but you’ve still practiced for countless hours, watched film, and hydrated. The first draw goes high into the air and your teammate grabs it. You transition down the field to your attacking end and get a perfect feed to find the back of the net. After this, your team begins to slip. The headgear is slipping, it’s giving you a headache because it’s too tight, and you just got hit in one of the spaces that are not covered by the helmet. The score goes back and forth until the final buzzer and your team does not come out on top. Is the new headgear affecting your play? Is it possible to get rid of them?

In 1400s Native America, lacrosse was the most widely played team sport. But back then it was considered so much more than just a sport. The Native people had a strong spiritual connection and played for various reasons including to help the healing process, settle disputes, help spiritual development, and to prepare for war. The Iroquois was the first tribe to play and believed that their Creator gave it to them because it was His favorite game. What made this sport unique is the equipment that was used. The sport required goals that were miles apart and actual sticks from trees with a netted racquet. The rules and number of players was very unclear, therefore can’t be recreated completely.

Nonnative lacrosse is now the common, fastest growing sport in America. In 2013, nearly 750,000 players participated in lacrosse on organized teams. This is a 25,000-player increase from 2012 and more than half of the total players are at the age of 15 or younger. While in the lacrosse (lax) world, it is known as a “northern east coast” sport, it is growing immensely and new teams are popping up throughout the country.

This newfound popularity for lacrosse might be because it takes on a skill set that is a combination of many sports. It takes not only speed and power, but accuracy and precision as well. Men and women’s lacrosse had the same rules until the mid 1930s. Men’s lacrosse evolved dramatically requiring helmets and more contact, while women’s lacrosse simply stayed the same. Today, the women’s lax requires a mouth guard, stick, and goggles to safely play the game. These safety regulations have been in place since 2005 in order to ensure the least amount of injuries.

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Just as everyone has gotten used to these rules, a new regulation was suggested. Florida high schools took a step requiring all of the girls’ lacrosse teams to wear protective headgear. Serious head injuries have always been a concern no matter what the sport because the information of the effects of concussions has increased over time. Dr. Badolato from University of South Florida School of Medicine wrote that helmets and other types of headgear are not entirely effective because they only protect from direct contact. They don’t protect the brain from contacting the inside of the skull from forces involved when a concussion occurs. However, even after knowing this information, some believe that female lax players should be wearing them as well. This is because the pro-helmet crowd is keeping preventing brain injuries as their top priority. They want safety first and sport second.

Boys’ lacrosse players nationwide have worn helmets for many years, but girls play a widely different game than them. This is due to the amount of contact that is allowed or not allowed. For example, in girl’s lacrosse, you cannot hit the body at all. You are allowed to make contact on the body with a vertical stick, hands together, and you may not push off of another player. You are only allowed to check the stick as long as it is away from the body and outside of your shoulders. These rules leave some grey area when it comes to refs and players are able to get away with some calls depending on who is officiating the game.

Lacrosse is considered a “new sport” that is gaining popularity in Florida. This can be due to the slow southern expansion. It is spreading for multiple reasons including its fast paced and high-scoring nature, the easily learned skillset, and because it originated in the north, it is slowly moving south. Because of the recent enlargement and popularity of the sport, Florida state officials realized that girls are just as likely to receive a concussion as boys while playing lacrosse.

The headgear that was required in Florida high schools is essentially a headband. It is 10 millimeters thick and flimsy. What is the point to wearing a headband that won’t solve the problem?

There have been a few studies on whether or not the helmets would actually solve the problem. Dr. Michael O’brien, director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at the Micheli Center for Sports Injury Prevention had a few things to say about helmets. “There’s certainly information that shows helmets absorb force. But there are several parts of concussion I think people don’t understand.”

He continued with the discussion in the Florida mandate for girls’ lacrosse players. “I think there’s very little value to it. It does not cover some of the most vulnerable spots for lacrosse of getting hit by a ball.”

Although much of the lax world is against the headgear, women’s lacrosse has the fifth highest concussion rate behind football, ice hockey, boys’ lacrosse, and girls’ soccer. Many are against this change because it will completely change the history of girl’s lacrosse.

Concussions are defined as a mild form of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. Some symptoms of a concussion are headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritability, feeling slowed down, difficulty remembering, or trouble falling asleep to name a few.

Concussions are nothing to take lightly, however helmets for women’s lacrosse are not necessarily the answer. Many believe that helmets will promote a more aggressive or violent game. The headgear could make checks more violent, which would in turn cause more concussions. In an experiment done from 1986 to 1996, the Massachusetts Athletic Association required that women lacrosse players at public schools wear ice hockey helmets. This requirement led to a more aggressive style of play. According to US Lacrosse, the rule was overturned due to “concern over increased injuries caused by more aggressive plays.”

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Since the headgear is simply a 10-millimeter headband, a lot of the head is not covered. If the game were more aggressive, these spots would be extremely vulnerable. People might not be afraid to hit people around the head and it could cause more problems than the helmets would solve.

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These helmets have not been tested properly and will not prevent concussions. Since the headgear is not required in collegiate lacrosse, it can hurt recruiting. According to US Lacrosse, they also ended the Massachusetts mandate because “the threat of litigation from parents whose daughters were not being recruited by colleges as a result of the helmet mandate.” Having helmets would change the game and the players going into college athletics would not be used to it without helmets.

Lacrosse players don’t want helmets. They don’t want to wear pads. The game of lacrosse is a beautiful sport that isn’t considered contact. Athletic trainers don’t travel to away games with the teams because it isn’t a “contact sport”. Helmets shouldn’t be required and the sport shouldn’t be changed. It is still the fastest growing sport and it should not be altered in any way, shape, or form

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