The Princeton school board recently approved a requirement that student-athletes in soccer, field hockey, and girls’ lacrosse would have to begin wearing helmets. Why? Supposedly to prevent concussions. A noble goal but the board’s action does nothing more than give parents a false sense of security.
These helmets are illegal to wear in field hockey according to the rules governing games between high schools that are members of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Princeton High School is a member of the NJSIAA and it’s middles schools use the same rules as the high school. Therefore, no one will be allowed wear the helmets in games.
If they plan to make the children wear them in practice, then they’ll have 6th graders in helmets playing with 7th and 8th graders without helmets.
According to an article in the Times of Trenton, pediatric neurosurgeon Alexander Post from the New Jersey Pediatric Neuroscience Institute in Morristown, who lectures on concussions, said he does not believe that the proposed headgear would be effective in reducing the risk. Barbara Greiger-Parker, president of the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey, said, “I don’t think that there are any scientific studies that show that this headgear works.” Not even the NFL, a multi-billion dollar industry, can find a helmet that minimizes the risk of concussive injuries.
Robb Rehberg, athletic trainer at the Center for Concussion Care at Overlook Medical Center in Summit is quoted saying, “Adding headgear could potentially give athletes a false sense of protection that would make them play more aggressively.” Athletes can be coached not to be overly aggressive, but with reduced sensory input they will simply try to muscle through situations where they would otherwise artfully outmaneuver opponents. The beauty of soccer, field hockey, and girls’ lacrosse is that they don’t rely on brute force.
Helmets and goggles reduce the one thing that young athletes need to be successful–sensory information. Blind spots are created, peripheral vision is reduced, binocular/predatory vision is impaired by wearing goggles and helmets. Sounds, even when wearing helmets designed with openings around the ears, are muffled and distorted. In short, the sensory information that we all use to avoid danger are diminished and reaction time is hampered, but the school board, without the support of any science, has decided to force helmets on one of the most at-risk populations among us–youngsters who play sports.
Anyone who thinks this is a good idea should put one of the proposed contraptions on and drive around Princeton for 60 minutes on a weekday from 4:00-5:00pm (the length and time of most games). Be sure to do it on a rainy day and parallel park a few times during your outing. Then, ride as a passenger as a 16 year old does the driving.
This is a “feel good” decision that lacks scholarly scrutiny, undermining the school district’s credibility as an educational institution. Using its position to foster a belief that these products will reduce the likelihood of concussions violates the public trust we expect from the institutions that care for our children.
National Athletic Trainers Association — Certified (ret.)
Author — Field Hockey: Understanding the Game