November 16, 2012

Heading Forward on Women's Lacrosse Headgear Standard

by Paul Ohanian |

* Related: Concussion Symposium Highlights New Findings

Among the possible hurdles in product design of women's headgear may be integrating it with current protective equipment used in girls' and women's lacrosse, specifically, eyewear.
© John Strohsacker/

ATLANTA — The process of developing a women's lacrosse headgear standard, with significant input from the sport's national governing body, moved a step forward Thursday during the ASTM International's semi-annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.

The ASTM's women's lacrosse headgear subgroup, officially known as Committee F08.53, is comprised of members representing equipment manufacturers, product testing laboratories, researchers, governing bodies and other lacrosse stakeholders. The consensus reached Thursday by a group of approximately 40 individuals from that committee was that the discussed standard requirements will now be articulated and distributed to all members of Committee FO8.53 for review and comment. Following that process and any needed revisions, it is expected that the standard will be forwarded in the spring to the fuller ASTM membership for balloting approval.

"We've fleshed out a lot of answers to questions that had to be answered," said Ann Carpenetti, managing director for games administration at US Lacrosse. "We've been able to assist in that process through some research that US Lacrosse has helped to fund, and we've been able to surround ourselves with the right partners in driving the development of a standard."

The approval of a standard is a critical step in having equipment manufacturers move forward in product development. Shaped in large measure by available scientific research and data, the standard provides the headgear guidelines to be used by manufacturers.

US Lacrosse's position regarding headgear has been that it must be a lightweight, streamlined product with no protruding parts or edges, with venting allowances and areas for hair to be pulled back and out (i.e.-ponytail hole). The goal is to have a product that helps prevent head injuries caused primarily by stick-to-head contact, but at the same time, does not change the culture of the women's game.

Current game rules allow for use of "soft" headgear and a number of products have been placed on the marketplace in recent years. With no current standard to regulate these products, however, they may have real limitations in the protection that they can provide to consumers. None of the products currently available in the marketplace are endorsed by US Lacrosse.

"What we are looking for is a piece of equipment that can serve as an intervention for head impact," Carpenetti said. "We don't want to make changes to our rules until we have a standard based on research. We need to do our due diligence."

Among the possible hurdles in product design may be integrating the headgear with current protective equipment used in girls' and women's lacrosse, specifically, eyewear.

"I don't think any hurdle is insurmountable," said Melissa Coyne, women's game director at US Lacrosse, "but I think it's going to really raise some questions as to what is the best way to make it compatible."

Headgear standards were just one of the equipment-related safety issues reviewed Thursday. A separate ASTM subcommittee, co-chaired by Carpenetti, is taking a closer look at possible modifications to the ball standard as well as to the lacrosse stick.

Discussions regarding the ball focused on keeping the aesthetics of the current ball unchanged, but also offering manufacturers greater design parameters. Making possible modifications to the interior qualities of the ball could provide more safety benefits. Changing the materials used in ball composition, for example, could help disperse more energy upon contact.

"I think these are things that anybody, on any level, would be interested in seeing," Coyne said. "These were good discussions and I was pleased to see that development."

Even if current standards are adjusted however, new balls would also have to be approved by various rule committees before being utilized.

"They want it to look and play the same way that it does now," Coyne said. "Rule makers are unconcerned about the inside of the ball."

Discussions about a safer stick revolve around the use of foam padding near the top of the shaft. The goal is that this would reduce head acceleration speeds generated by stick-to-head contact.

Limited preliminary testing with foam-padded sticks conducted in two laboratory settings has yielded inconclusive data thus far. Additional testing with different foam types, weights and thicknesses, will continue.

"We got a good education into what foam types are available," Coyne said. "While it's still too early to know if this will make a significant safety difference, I think it's something that has to be looked at and something that scientists have to continue to test. We'll see what happens."

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