In a very unusual move by a school board the Princeton Regional School District – servicing one high school, one middle school and four elementary schools – has made it mandatory to wear head-gear in sports not known for head-gear. In a proactive move the board has voted to make this a must in their school district;
The requirement, one that is not used teamwide for those sports anywhere else in New Jersey, will be mandatory initially for the sixth grade only, officials said. For children in grades seven to 12, the headgear is optional, although parents or guardians will have to sign a form saying they have declined to have their children wear it.
Still, officials were clear this week that with each year, the headgear would become mandatory one subsequent grade level at a time, so that all athletes in those sports eventually will have to wear it if they want to play.
This move strikes me as both good and forward thinking and as a waste of money as well. Let us examine, first with the not-so-good ideas/thoughts.
First, the premise for this move was in part due to concussions (although they did also state it is for facial and oral injury protection as well) and the thinking on this is wrong in my humble opinion. Many researchers, doctors, athletic trainers agree that helmets do not prevent concussions. Sure there is disagreement on whether they protect – for focal-direct-linear forces they do have validity in this premise (as you will see below) – but the general consensus on concussion attenuation is exposure limitation.
Secondly, the addition of head-gear in soccer makes almost no sense to me. Products like the Full-90 and other head band looking devices began their marketing by saying they can protect from concussion but that is extremely flawed, not only in my opinion but by pure Physic’s. A soccer ball is designed to be headed by the athlete, and when anticipating the maneuver and doing it correctly there is no overt and sudden harm to the brain. That is the only time one would be expecting to use their head, unlike football where your head is actually part of the game. In soccer the vast majority of concussions reported are due to the head striking the ground, a pole, or an opponent. Often these injuries are unanticipated and few incidents begin with strikes to the head, rather the body. Head gear in soccer will not protect the brain from the angular, rotational and sudden deceleration of the head; which causes the injury of concussion in most soccer cases. Add to the fact that players with the head-gear may play with a false sense of security and participate in much more risky behavior on the pitch. For those reasons I am not in agreement with the soccer portion of this idea (cost is also a factor).
However, there has been some decent moves here and I think should be mimicked.
In field hockey, although body contact is not allowed, the sticks are hard and the ball is also very hard. This combination leads to the possibility of a high-velocity, direct, linear and focal impact on the head. Exactly what a helmet can protect against. Granted I have never heard of a skull fracture or subdural hematoma in girls field hockey, this is a small addition that will protect the player in the rare chance this will happen.
In girls lacrosse I have been opining for years that the simple eye shield they wear was never enough. There are some in the concussion realm that think adding helmets to the girls’ version will make them much more aggressive and take higher risks. This point should definitely be honored and observed once this goes into effect, after all it is one of my reasons for exclusion in soccer. I get that like HS boys lacrosse there should be no body checking and “stick-work” that is violent, but it does happen. My main reason for inclusion of this sport is similar to that of field hockey. The sticks being at head level, along with the high density ball traveling at high speeds can cause the focal damage that is concerning.
Finally, implementation of this rule over time is a good idea; starting with the youngest group of kids – 6th grade. As the players get older they will be accustomed to the addition and be able to perform at their potential level. I do not see a competitive disadvantage for the Princeton schools as this plays out and if they are going to make it mandatory it is good that the schools will provide this for the athletes.
In summation, I don’t think this gets a standing ovation, rather a nice warm clap; for being thoughtful and proactive, but a bit overzealous with the inclusion of soccer.