Sports Science and Safety

The following is an edited version of a feature story that US Lacrosse published in its February 2012 edition of Lacrosse Magazine.

By Matt Forman

After her father’s unexpected death, Dr. Paige Perriello wasn’t sure if she should accept an invitation from US Lacrosse to join its Sports Science and Safety Committee.

Her father, Vito, described by US Lacrosse CEO Steve Stenersen as "a beloved pediatrician of 40 years and an A-plus guy with an incredible demeanor," had served as the committee’s chair and was a member of the U.S. men’s national team medical staff. Vito died after suffering two strokes in March 2009. He was 68.

Despite her initial hesitation, Paige joined the committee to pay homage to her father and immediately knew she made the right decision. Before her first committee meeting, she received for review an eight-page document written by her father about the priorities of youth sports, specifically lacrosse. Paige knew about her father’s passion for youth participation in athletics, and they had discussed related topics — player development, team play, sportsmanship and safety — at length. But she did not understand the magnitude of his work until she discovered the treasure trove of supporting evidence on his computer.

"I was reading this document thinking, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that he had already put all of this together in something so concrete and complete,’" Paige said. "I was amazed at what he had put together, and I was really pleased that US Lacrosse had it as a priority to take his initial paper to the place that it needed to get to be disseminated and for the ideas to get out there."

For the last three years, Paige has continued her father’s legacy on the committee and carried forth her father’s vision. The effort culminated in December with the release of the committee’s position statement, "Boys’ and Girls’ Youth Lacrosse Participation Recommendations," based on cognitive and physical development.

"It was nice to have something that I could do to honor him that involved so many of his passions and take that forward in such a meaningful way," said Paige, who played collegiate lacrosse at Princeton, coached at the NCAA Division I level and then served as an umpire before following in her father’s footsteps into pediatrics. "It really has been a labor of love."

The youth participation recommendations position paper codified US Lacrosse’s effort to combine existing medical literature with common-sense solutions. In September, this project reached a milestone when US Lacrosse’s Board of Directors passed age-appropriate, national playing rules for youth boys and girls.

The participation recommendations came to fruition under Perriello’s guidance and with significant contributions from Dr. Richard Ginsburg, co-director of the Paces Institute for Sport Psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and co-author of "Whose Game is it Anyway?"

Ginsburg, a US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee member since 2008, called balancing the sport’s safety with the game’s integrity "both the greatest challenge and the great opportunity of this project."

Stenersen stressed the paper needed to be a "living, breathing document," and "research is essential for providing information to help justify change. Change — in rules, equipment, education, behavior, in anything — is not always welcomed. When you’re able to point to empirical data, to say, ‘We need to change. Look at this, it’s not just what I think, but it’s what empirically is happening.’ That’s an incredible asset when trying to change behavior."

That was Vito Perriello’s vision, one his daughter ensured the lacrosse world would see.