August 16, 2010

Helmets in Women's Lax? USL, Fans Respond to Heady Debate

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

An ESPN "E:60" segment last week examined a reportedly high incidence of concussions in girls' lacrosse. The sports news magazine show segment, produced by Tom Farrey, featured two injured girls' high school players from Pittsburgh (Pa.) and suggested that hard helmets should be incorporated into the women’s game.

US Lacrosse, the national governing body of men's and women's lacrosse, issued a response Wednesday morning after the segment aired Tuesday night. USL stressed the importance of having properly educated coaches and officials, rather than helmets, in the segment and in its response.

Among points made in its response are:

* Research shows that helmets do not necessarily prevent concussions and that the incidence of concussions in girls' lacrosse is no higher than other female sports, like soccer.
* USL funds the only lacrosse-specific high school injury study in the country with a larger, more robust sample size than that which was cited in the segment.
* Pittsburgh is a developing lacrosse area with a shortage of properly-trained coaches and officials.
* USL has adjusted rules for the 2010-11 season to include stricter penalties for major fouls, including checks to the head.
* USL is investigating the development of women's lacrosse-specific manufacturing standards for soft protective headgear, which are allowed within the current rules.

Click here for the full response.

Earlier this year, Lacrosse Magazine Online polled fans for their response to the issue. Should helmets be required in women's lacrosse? Here's what some of you said.

Ann Carpenetti
US Lacrosse Women’s Division Director
Baltimore, Md.
Helmets should not be mandated for field players in women’s lacrosse at this time for several reasons. The women’s game is different than the men’s game. In terms of its history, rules, penalties for contact and equipment — women’s lacrosse is different enough that some leaders in the game have even offered that the women’s game might be better served if it was not even called lacrosse at all. Baggataway anyone? Women’s lacrosse is a safe sport. The women’s game has been played in the U.S. without helmets since 1913 and, until six years ago, without any protective equipment (other than mouth guards). According to the NFHS Concussion Rates by Sport and Type of Exposure in the 2008-09 High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, women’s lacrosse ranks fifth for head/face injuries behind soccer, basketball, softball and field hockey — the lowest rate among all field sports reviewed and third for concussions behind soccer and basketball. Helmets do not prevent concussions. For those who want additional protection on the field, according to the US Lacrosse rulebook, women are permitted to wear soft helmets — which may help lessen the severity of head trauma and facial lacerations. More comprehensive and conclusive research of concussion prevention in youth sports in order to make the case for additional rule changes that include more protective equipment in women’s lacrosse. Additional protective equipment does not address the unsafe playing conditions that manifest when inconsistently trained coaches and umpires are on the field incorrectly teaching and enforcing the rules of women’s lacrosse. The problem is not simply the lack of equipment — it is also the lack of properly trained coaches and officials in our game. No helmet will change the fact that only eight states in the country require sport-specific coaching education for high school level coaches. Coaches, umpires, players and administrators all need to work together and share in the responsibility our sport requires to maintain safety. US Lacrosse offers the only lacrosse-specific standardized coaches’ education curriculum in the country, and coaches can get started today at

Adam Edgington
Des Moines, Iowa
While helmets would take away the femininity of the game, it is probably time to bring them in. Girls seem to be getting bigger and stronger, just like boys. In fact, this may be the time to reconsider the girls' game and bring it more in line with the male version. Using the same field dimensions and lines would be a good start. While I am not advocating the physical contact or pocket depth of men's lacrosse, I do think certain rule changes to the women’s game would benefit both versions. But more importantly, the use of helmets in women’s lacrosse would increase the safety on the field and minimize the risks associated with a solid rubber ball flying at high speeds.

Andi Gwin
Pasadena, Md.
No! I think players need to be taught how to check properly and if a player slashes or contacts an opponent’s body/head with her stick, she should face more serious consequences from coaches and officials.

Andrew Brown
Plano, Texas
I would say yes, women need helmets with these concussions happening. One wrong check, and you could have a scraped cheek, broken cheek or nose even. I don't think its right to have a rubber ball flying around without people wearing head protection. Believe me, I've been hit enough in the head!

Aubrey Bausum
Alpharetta, Ga.
No, girls should not have to wear helmets, because it can be played safely with out helmets.
Carmen Taplin
Hillsboro, Ore.
No helmets. It will make the game more dangerous. People will be less conscious of how hard and where they are checking if helmets were worn.

Conor Darby
Haverhill, Mass.
Yes. Helmets are so, so important. Head trauma is a major problem and it’s on the rise. I personally think girls should wear helmets because I know people who have gotten major problems from being hit in the head, either accidentally or on purpose. I think that if the girls wear helmets, it can keep everyone safer. It lightens a load on the parents. Since we play the same game with the same ball and same stick, I think we should share all the same equipment.

Darla Davis
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Absolutely not. A brief reflection on the history of lacrosse, both men's and women's, shows that as more protective equipment is added, the game becomes proportionately rougher and more dangerous. Both sports began with similar roots and very little equipment, besides a stick and a ball. The men's game, refined in Canada, began to look like and be played more like ice hockey, with increasing physical contact. The women's game stayed truer to the roots of the sport and remained a more fluid and skillful game, even as the men's game became more collision centered. Eye-guards, which are designed to protect the eyes from catastrophic collisions with the ball, have also led to players having less respect for opponents heads and faces -- as well as their own! Helmets will only continue to erode the respect that players have for their own and their opponent’s safety. The two games, men's and women's lacrosse, are each beautiful in their own way, but they are two distinct sports and should remain that way. Just because basketball or soccer are played the same by both men and women doesn't mean that lacrosse should follow. It's time to take pride in each of our sports, men's and women's lacrosse, not bow to those who think they should be the same. After all, no one has said that men's lacrosse should remove their helmets and their violent collisions to be safer and more like the women's game.

Elson Lopez
Hialeah, Fla.
Personally, I think women’s lacrosse players should wear helmets. I mean, maybe lightweight helmets. The goalie wears one. Why not the attack, middies and defense? In women’s lacrosse, they have to check the stick. Even us guys have gotten three or four penalties a game because of a slash. I’d imagine for women, it’s so hard for them to get the ball out of the opponent’s stick, so they get scored on so many times. If the women’s lacrosse players get helmets, I would say they wear lightweight, bicycle-type helmets. If not, regular helmets will do.

Emily Harrigan
West Hartford, Conn.
No. Definitely no. Women's lacrosse maintains integrity, agility and grace without the bulkiness of pads and helmets.

Grant Swaney
Potomac Falls, Va.
Since I play men's lacrosse at a very competitive level, helmets save my life on a daily basis. Since women's lacrosse has an increasing amount of head injuries, helmets can be crucial in the sport. Some of my friends that play women's lacrosse can become a lot more fun if they were able to play a little bit more aggressive defense. It could change the game of lacrosse in so many ways.

Grant Anhorn
Houston, Texas
Yeah. Some of my friends play women’s lacrosse and they always complain that the balls hit them in the head. When they play checking games, sometimes they will get hit in the head.

Hillary Tilles
Potomac, Md.
I believe that women’s lacrosse is way too strict and that it should be played like the boys do. So what if we are girls who do our nails and shop? We like to get down, dirty and aggressive too! Women should wear helmets if and only if we are allowed to hit. Otherwise, if you get hit, suck it up and play.

Jessica Keib
Wallingford, Conn.
Being a young student athlete, my heath and safety are among the top priorities in achieving excellence in everything that I do. While playing a game, or sport that I love, I want to feel the comfort and safety in knowing that I will be OK. Lacrosse is a sport that makes me feel alive inside. Determination and ambition help me to strive to be the best on the team. However, recently, I’ve been having some health issues that don’t impact my athletic skills, but my attitude in lacrosse. Instead of feeling alive and free to play the sport I love, I feel held back by a gut feeling of nervousness. I have ocular migraines that look like seizures. If I get hit in the head with a ball or stick, I don’t know what could happen. Doctors don’t know how to stop the onset of my headaches, or stop the pain I feel when having them. I pass out from the pain and, if I’m playing right wing attack and take a hit to the head, pass out… I’m afraid of what can happen to me. My father played lacrosse in high school and shattered his hand because of the lack of protection his gloves offered him. He could no longer play lacrosse in college. I don’t want this to happen to me. It’s only going to take one unfortunate death or serious injury for people to see that girls need helmets. We use the same ball, same stick as men. Why not prevent an injury before it happens, and create protection for the one thing we need in every situation: our brain?

Jim Ceraso
Seaford, N.Y.
Helmets are a must.

Judie Leutem
Minneapolis, Minn.
Only if they will start allowing more body contact during the game. Otherwise they are not needed. I've seen worse head injuries in soccer when two players go for the header.

Karen Celmer
North Liberty, Ind.
I understand that women can’t check, but last year, I had a girl on my team get a concussion from taking a pass to the goggles. It was from about 10 feet away. I think that helmets may be safer than just goggles. Although some people may not like the helmets, thinking that it will give girls the right to check, etc., I disagree. I think that the safety added would be a fantastic thing to have, since I know no one wants to have lasting brain effects from a concussion.

Katie Lasater
Malvern, Pa.
Absolutely not.

Liz Robertshaw
Head Coach
Boston University

No, women should not be in helmets, because it promotes checks to the head. There becomes a, "Well, they're wearing a helmet. It won't hurt," mentality. Don't believe it? Look at how players go after goalies and look at the allowable checking in the men’s game around the head.

Mary Hopkins
Orlando, Fla.
The girls’ game of lacrosse needs to be seen as a separate sport from the male game. Seeing them as the same game puts this issue as a more worthwhile topic than it actually is. Statistics have shown that helmets do not prevent concussions. (Hence, the reason football players get concussions.) With proper enforcement of the rules already in place, the women's game can be preserve in its safe current status. Finesse, speed and skill are required to play the game. It is a sport that does not require a great deal of body contact to be played correctly. Keen intuition and strategy are key ingredients. We must all do our part, as fans, coaches and officials, to preserve the integrity of the sport. Although parents and coaches bring up the issue of helmets, how many times have you heard them yell at the officials to "just let 'em play!" when there is a safety call made? Let's all support the rules of the game, which are the key components to its safety, by being coaches of integrity, officials who call it like they see it and fans who want this great sport of ours to continue.

Melissa Burdette
Charleston, W.V.
I just can’t accept the sport should be attacked in this way. I believe the integrity of the sport would be completely destroyed. There are inherent risks to every aspect in life. Just as in life, we do our best to be safe. We as coaches do the same. I feel if we add helmets to our sport, we should just scrap the game and all play boys’ lacrosse.

Michael Christenson
Eagan, Minn.
Helmets are a great idea, even if the rules are not changed for the style of play. Accidents happen. Wild ball always has the opportunity to smack a player, same with the crosse. It may be accidental, but we could really save the chances of severe injury here. It makes sense! The lacrosse balls are not soft, and I would hate to see anyone hit anywhere in the head by a stick.

Michelle A.
Marietta, Ga.
I think we should stick to goggles. This is girls’ lacrosse, not boys’. The helmets will make us play like them and cause even more injuries.

Mike Tobin
Orlando, Fla.
Helmets would take away from the skill of the women’s game. Instead, we need to focus on better coaching and reffing. Coaches need to teach their players how to check correctly and be in control of their stick. Refs need better training on what a controlled and uncontrolled check is. If those two things happen, then there would be no need for helmets. Once you introduce helmets, gloves and pads will surely follow. When that happens, the beauty of the ladies’ game is gone.

Peter White
Shepherdstown, W.V.
I know I don't speak for all girls’ lacrosse players, but I would think that they want to just strap up the gear and just play guys’ lacrosse. Same in girls’ hockey, where they're not allowed to check, and I'm sure they would like to be able to. It seems somewhat sexist that the girls’ version of these two sports doesn't allow contact. Let women play men's lacrosse! (Unless they would prefer to play women's.)

Rich Greger
Millersville, Md.
No. It’s just an overreaction because one player gets hurt. Call the rules that are in place on a consistent basis, and everyone will be fine.

Sam Adler
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
If the women’s game were to change to mandatory helmets, then the game should just be turned to the same game as the men’s -- with full contact, such as hockey is for men and women. It would only make sense to do so.

Sammi Gorman
New York, N.Y.
Helmets in women’s lacrosse? Well, the answer to this question is quite debatable. It depends on what direction the women’s game is headed in. Part of the reason for the difference in the women’s game is due to the “feminizing” of the sport when it came over from Europe. Americans were too appalled that the women’s game would resemble the brutality of the men’s game. Thus, the women’s game was established as a non-contact sport, based more on skill than physical strength. However, in the past few years, we have seen an increase in contact allowed in the women’s game. Not to mention the speed and power produced by some of the more powerful attack players. So the initial solution is to introduce helmets. However, if we do that, then what is next? Mandatory gloves? Shoulder pads? It could be only a matter of time until the women’s game is transformed into the men’s game. I as a player believe we need to keep the individuality and finesse of the women’s game. If the current trend of increased contact continues, more safety equipment will be necessary. Perhaps a different type of helmet is a better solution. Something that can protect the head, but also have an aesthetic appeal. The addition of a helmet does not mean the women’s game has to become a replica of the men’s. Keep the women’s game feminine and unique. That applies to the rules and the gear.

Samuel Ryan
Mountain View, Calif.
I believe helmets would change women’s lacrosse too much. The thing that separates men's lacrosse and women's lacrosse is the pads. Men's lacrosse is a game of brute force and athleticism. (Will Yeatman is a perfect example of that.) Women's lacrosse is a game of finesse, with more precision checks and, of course, the shallower pockets. I think helmets would be too much of a drastic change to women's lacrosse.

Sean Bowler
Monroe, Conn.
Helmets, yes, as a first step to aligning the girls’ game much more closely with the boys’ game. I'd cite the example of women's and men's ice hockey. Same game, same rules, minus the hitting and checking. I mean really, shooting space violation? Get real. I had a U-15 girl whistled last season for taking a dangerous shot at a goalie. Really?! I think that if you polled every girls’ lax player in the country, you'd get an overwhelming response that they want to play the boys’ game. There’s your polling question!

Steven Reburn
Lancaster, Pa.
I think that it would be a good idea if women would wear helmets. It would cut down on injuries and make the game more interesting.

William Lane
Centennial, Colo.
I don’t think that girls should have to wear helmets. Having girls wear helmets would, yes, protect the players more, but change the whole aspect of the game. Girls’ lacrosse is more of a finesse game than boys’. Girls move the ball around, while boys pound the ball. Girls pass the ball to get the best shot, while boys dodge and take it to the hole strong. Girls’ lacrosse is fun to watch at the high levels, but only if you understand the girls’ game of lacrosse is much different than the boys’. Plus, if you make them wear helmets, then you would have to allow more contact. Otherwise, the helmets are only to protect from getting hit with the ball.

More from US Lacrosse:

* USL response to E:60
* Head, face and eye injury report
* Concussion management and education
* Open letter to women's lacrosse
* Differences between men's and women's lacrosse
* Why women's lacrosse is not played with more protective equipment

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