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By Paul Ohanian
The evolution of headgear for girls’ and women’s lacrosse reached a significant milestone last week as the performance standard that will define the product’s manufacturing specifications went to ballot among selected members of ASTM, the international organization that develops technical standards for products in the marketplace.
All members of the ASTM’s headgear and helmets subcommittee, officially known as F08.53, now have a 60-day window to either vote for approval of the headgear standard or submit objections. Per ASTM’s protocol, all objections must be addressed before the standard moves to the second and final balloting phase among a larger portion of the ASTM membership.
“We’ve fleshed out a lot of answers to questions that had to be answered,” said Ann Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse and co-chair of Subcommittee F08.53’s women’s lacrosse headgear task group. “US Lacrosse has been able to assist in that process through research that we’ve helped to fund, and we’ve been able to surround ourselves with the right partners in driving the development of a standard.”
ASTM’s collaborative process required that US Lacrosse serve as a partner with representatives from many other groups, including equipment manufacturers, product testing laboratories, researchers, and lacrosse governing bodies. The need for scientific research and data to help guide the development of the standard has been one of the committee’s priorities.
“Incorporating the results from the scientific testing has been critically important,” said Bruce Griffin, director of health and sport safety at US Lacrosse and one of the principle authors of the draft standard. “Those results gave us real doubts about the safety value of current products on the market.”
The use of headgear in girls’ and women’s lacrosse has been perhaps the most debated safety issue in the sport in recent years. Current women’s lacrosse game rules allow for use of “soft” headgear, and a number of products have emerged on the marketplace. However, with no established standard in place to regulate these products, they all have limitations in the protection that they can provide to consumers. None of the products currently available have been developed based on scientific testing, and none are endorsed by US Lacrosse.
Due to this lack of scientific data for headgear, US Lacrosse began working as a collaborative partner with ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) in 2012 to provide research dollars that would help address the issue.
The ASTM women’s lacrosse headgear task group was formed, and testing protocols and partners were subsequently identified. Multiple scientific tests were conducted over the past 18 months, with the data results and measurements used to help shape the language in the headgear standard. Ultimately, the three tests that yielded the most significant results for inclusion in the draft standard were the stick impact, ball impact and drop/rod test. The goal of each test was to limit peak head accelerations resulting from an impact to less than 80g.
In addition to reducing acceleration rates, US Lacrosse advocated that the headgear must be a lightweight, streamlined product with no protruding parts or edges, and must provide venting allowances. Manufacturer guidance about the selection of protective eyewear has also been identified as a requirement.
Some of the other specific language incorporated into the standard are:
Interest in lacrosse has never been stronger, evidenced by the fact that the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) categorizes lacrosse as one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation.
Consistent with this growth, however, has come a greater need to maintain player safety and assure a high quality of experience for all participants. As the national governing body for the sport, US Lacrosse accepted the responsibility to serve as a leader in this area.
“What we have been looking for since this process started is a piece of equipment that can serve as an intervention for head impact,” Carpenetti said. “We have understood the need to utilize due diligence in developing the performance standards based on scientific data, and in creating a product that will not change the unique culture of the women’s game.”
US Lacrosse maintains that protective equipment is just one essential element in producing a safe playing experience. Having certified coaches with sport-specific education, utilizing trained and certified officials, and mandating the use of age-appropriate rules are all critical safety components as well.
Within the past few years, major rules changes in the men’s and women’s games at all levels have included increasing penalties associated with fouls caused as a result of dangerous play – specifically focused on taking the head out of the game - and changes in stick design standards intended to make it easier to dislodge a ball from the head. Points of emphasis each season stress to officials the importance of adhering to strict enforcement of the rules that prohibit rough, reckless checking and body contact.
Download our free Equipment Fitting Guide for first-time buyers, parents and players. Designed to help both the boys’ and girls’ youth player, the guide explains how lacrosse equipment should feel when properly worn.
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