Blogs and Commentary

posted 07.26.2012 at 7.30 p.m. by Paul Ohanian

Playing Women's Lacrosse Head Games

Clare Gaffney, 12, of Barrington, R.I., whacks away in the name of science.
© Mike Cohea/Brown University

I spent an interesting Thursday afternoon in Providence, R.I., watching a wide range of female lacrosse players breaking the rules – all in the name of science.

Imagine, if you will, being encouraged to do something you have been trained NOT to do your whole life. Eating dessert before dinner. Driving with no regard for the speed limit. Swinging a lacrosse stick at an opponent’s head.

On Thursday, that’s exactly what female lacrosse players ranging in age from 12 to 28 were asked to do at the Bioengineering Lab in the Department of Orthopaedics at Rhode Island Hospital. Don’t avoid contact; rather, try to hit that head as hard as possible.

Fortunately, in this case, the head belonged to a crash test dummy. Additionally, the head, as well as the sticks used by the subjects, had been fitted with sensors to measure both the stick speed as well as the head accelerations resulting from the whacks.

“It was a little awkward,” said Annie Berkery, 12, of Barrington, Rhode Island, “and a little fun.”

Berkery and several of her teammates from Barrington Middle School were among the subjects who volunteered to take part in the study, coordinated by Dr. Trey Crisco of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee. 

Crisco’s project, “Head Accelerations from Various Stick Checks in Girls’ Lacrosse” is funded jointly by US Lacrosse and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) and designed to provide data that could assist in eventually establishing a headgear standard for girls’ and women’s lacrosse.

After five months of product development, design and setup, Thursday was finally “game day” for Crisco and his team. Each subject was asked to take 36 swings at the customized headform, which was also fitted with an accelerometer that captured the resulting movement. Designated spots on the front, side and top of the headform were marked as targets for the players. Measurements were recorded on each swing and will be analyzed in the coming weeks.

“This study is just one piece in trying to understand what the potential injury mechanism is for head injuries in girls’ lacrosse,” said Crisco, who has coached girls’ lacrosse for 12 years. He had all three of his daughters take part in Thursday’s head banging.

“We’re not used to checking heads, but it wasn’t that bad because it was a fake head,” said Cameron Crisco, 13.