Helmet Talk

by

By: Megan Moore
Assistant Women’s Lacrosse Coach

A few days ago one of our players asked me if we were really going to be made to wear helmets. I said that I hoped not. I realized though that ignoring the prospect as I have for the past few months since it took serious shape at the IWLCA convention in November was not going to make it go away.

On whose shoulders does the responsibility fall to deter the helmet talk and ensure the safety of our players? And if, as our player expressed with disgust, we really are going to be made to don headgear, how will the game change and will I want to change with it? While the first vote of its kind reached a 9-2 decision against the implementation of hard helmets by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (the same entity that first adopted the rule that protective eyewear be instated in 2005), it is not a discussion that I expect to dissipate.

We teach our players to be more aggressive. Run through a ground ball, you’ll either come up with it or get fouled. Step up and make contact on defense, take a charge. In a battle of two evenly matched teams, the more aggressive competitor leaves the field with a W. There is much to be said for controlled aggression, but I know of few successful coaches whose game-plan it is to be less physical. In every game we’ve played this season against Top 10 level opponents we’ve prepared our team to expect sticks to be swinging and bodies to be flying.  And while when aggression is controlled, ideally by the players themselves if not the officials, safety is less called into question, there are individuals and teams whose lack of control attests to a need for more protective measures.

Example of illegal contact in women's lacrosse.

There were a lot of conversations at this year’s convention about what coaches can do to annul the helmet proposition. Many in opposition have taken it upon themselves to keep their teams safer in their own play. But they also grapple with sacrificing a better team because of it.  At what point does it become disadvantageous to the team who practices a safer game when trying to prepare for rougher opponents? By swallowing a whistle in practice, are you then giving into the mindset that only encourages that which you are trying to avoid? It’s hard to get things done when play is being stopped every time a foul is committed and two hours is not enough time to accomplish everything as it is.

A month ago the Sports section of the New York Times ran an article on the game’s continuing to ban the use of hard helmets. The article focused on the argument by US Lacrosse and other proponents of the game that enforcing head equipment would only encourage rougher play and increase injury, citing the speculated increase in more aggressive hits in football and hockey since each sport imposed face masks and helmets as example. The counter-argument comes mostly from doctors who have seen enough women’s and girls’ lacrosse related concussions to believe protection needs to be instated.

It may be irresponsible, but I don’t worry so much about the head injuries as much as the game becoming something it’s not. If nothing else, the article highlighted the grave misunderstanding that those unfamiliar with the sport often hold; men’s and women’s lacrosse are the same game. The article cites a statistic from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital that girls’ lacrosse has the third highest rate of concussions among female scholastic sports, behind soccer and basketball. I may be overlooking one or two but I can only think of about five female sports in which players actually come in contact with their opponents. Being third out of a handful doesn’t seem worthy of this debate, especially when the first two aren’t seriously entertaining the idea.

 

Some people are calling for the adoption of helmets in women's lacrosse.

I can’t help but think that an association with the men’s game is what drives a lot of this helmet talk. Even within the article there are allusions to the games being the same. “…as a freshman midfielder for Columbia women’s lacrosse team who is fully aware of the dangers of head trauma, Richardson makes one thing clear: She has no interest in wearing a helmet, as the men must.” (Schwarz, Alan. “A Case Against Helmets in Lacrosse.” The New York Times. 16 February 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/sports/17lacrosse.html) Yes, the men must wear helmets, but they are two totally different games, and not just in the fact that their pockets are deeper and they can hit each other. The games are of different speeds, there are different scoring tactics, different field lengths, different rules and different penalties. Really the only similarities are that they both use a similarly shaped stick to throw and catch a ball and that they share the same name, which I can see as tricky to those who don’t speak lax. I can count on two hands the number of people who’ve been shocked to realize that I coach a sport that has little to do with long stick midfielders or man-up units, let alone shoulder pads and helmets. While this is a little disheartening, I find it much more discouraging to think that should we adopt helmets, those already confused will have less from which to differentiate.

If we get helmets, I don’t see some padding being far behind. Not that I envision the contact rules to completely change, but if we’re taking the approach of as many safety

measurements as possible like those in favor are advocating, then why not go ahead and be proactive and start suiting up? I like

that our game is different; it gives female athletes something to excel in that isn’t constantly being compared to the men’s side. And while I think both games are great, I’d like for ours to stay the way it is.

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One Response to “Helmet Talk”

  1. G & G Says:

    Great article- your argument makes very good sense

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