Helmet mandates in HS girls’ lacrosse may be effective

September 26, 2022

The findings of a recently published paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine co-authored by Dr. Shane Caswell, Professor of Athletic Training in Mason’s School of Kinesiology in the College of Education and Human Development, suggest that a mandate requiring the use of protective headgear may help reduce the frequency of incidental concussions sustained by girls playing high school lacrosse. Dr. Caswell, founding director of Mason’s Sports Medicine Assessment, Research & Testing (SMART) Laboratory, co-authored the paper with Dr. Dan Herman from the University of California Davis along with Samantha Hatcherl, currently a graduate student at Mason working on her PhD in Education with a concentration in Kinesiology, and Patricia Kelshaw who also earned her doctorate at Mason. Mason received grant funding for the project in collaboration with the University of Florida and UC Davis.

The study compared the rate of concussions among players in Florida, where the use of protective headgear is mandated for high school girls’ lacrosse, with the rate of concussions in a total of 31 other states that do not have a protective headgear mandate. For the study, athletic trainers who worked with high school girls’ lacrosse teams were recruited to report incidents of player head concussions into the National Athletic Treatment, Injury and Outcomes Network (NATION), an existing injury reporting registry, for the 2019, 2020, and 2021 lacrosse seasons. The findings demonstrated that a mandate requiring the use of protective headgear is associated with a lower incidence of concussion in girls’ lacrosse at the high school level.

According to the study, participation in high school girls’ lacrosse has grown nearly 54 percent over the past decade. With this rise in popularity has come increasing concern over the risk of concussions sustained as a result of incidental stick contact in girls’ lacrosse. The authors of the study note that the question of whether to mandate the use of protective headgear for the sport is a controversial one and has generated considerable debate within the world of lacrosse. Because girls’ lacrosse is considered a non-contact sport, protective equipment is limited to mouthguards and eyewear for players other than the goalie. The use of protective headgear is optional. If a player does choose to wear a helmet, it must meet ASTM International F3137 performance standards. In 2018, the Florida High School Athletic Association adopted a mandate requiring the use of protective headgear that meets this ASTM standard. To date, Florida is the only state in the U.S. to mandate the use of protective helmets for high school girls’ lacrosse.

As noted in the study, proponents of the headgear mandate contend that such a requirement reduces the risk of head injury caused by incidental stick contact. Opponents of the mandate counter that it would encourage more aggressive play, thus increasing the risk of injury. The study was conducted to determine if there was any difference in the rates of concussion among high school girls’ lacrosse players in a state with a headgear mandate compared with players in states without a mandate.

The results of the study indicated that there was a difference in the rates of injury as evidenced by a greater incidence of concussions reported in states that lacked a protective headgear requirement. The authors concluded that a statewide mandate for headgear which meets the ASTM F3137 performance standard should be considered to reduce the risk of concussions in high school girls’ lacrosse. In addition, they suggested that a protective headgear requirement could also potentially reduce the risk of head injury at the collegiate or youth level of play.