Op-Ed: Helmets Won’t Protect Princeton 6th Graders

illegalhelmetThe 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.


Cris Maloney
National Athletic Trainers Association — Certified (ret.)
Author — Field Hockey: Understanding the Game


  1. Princeton school board spends up to 50% more per student to educate our kids than in surrounding municipalities. It’s pretty clear that they are wasting money and we could use some new voices on the Board. There is no evidence this headgear prevents injury. Plus, I have no idea how you are supposed to play soccer properly while wearing one of these things, because it is part of the game to use your head to play the ball.

  2. Terrific response! The false sense of security and inclination to play more aggressively the players will gain was demonstrated years ago in Massachusetts when that state required helmets on high school girls playing lacrosse. The game became more rough and the state rescinded the rule. These helmets may help prevent bruises and lacerations, but only increased discipline by the players – instilled by the coaches and parents and enforced by the officials – will lead to fewer concussions.

  3. Oh, I know I’ll catch it for this, but… maybe the key to preventing head injuries in sports is to not play the sports prone to head injuries?

  4. More protection >>> more aggressive play, more danger, in most field sports,IMO.

    In field hockey, as Goal-keepers ( -tenders? I don’t speak American very well 🙂 ) have adopted more and better protection, attackers have displayed less and less concern for their safety. Cricket also exhibits the same reckless attitude towards batsmen as they wear more and more protection

    As for Gridiron !!!!!!

    Compare the protection of grid iron players with that of Rugby Players, particularly Rugby league.

    Does grid iron involve more and/or heavier tackling? or does the protection result in fewer or fewer significant injuries?

    After years of playing and umpiring hockey, I have not the slightest
    doubt that the use helmets by field players would be be counter

    Not to mention the unaffordable cost in many countries.

  5. Talking about hockey only :
    And I thought mandatory goggles (where applicable) were bad enough. Have there been any official medical surveys done to compare what the injuries had/have before and after their introduction?
    To the best of my knowledge neither goggles nor helmets are used (or allowed) in the game anywhere else in the world, and we seem to be OK with that.
    I can’t comment on how effective the “helmet” would be, but I just can’t see why it has to be mandatory? To be fair, unlike the goggles I can’t see that it could cause any damage to another player, although I would agree that the “feeling of invulnerability” granted by wearing it might increase aggressive play.
    Please, where are the independent, peer reviewed scientific articles to back up the need for their introduction?

    Sure, the sport can be dangerous, but so can life.

    Good for the economy though with all the extra money being spent on the equipment. Wonder how much each will cost?

    Know nothing about lacrosse, but I’d say there might be more of a case for some kind of protection in football since heading the ball is part of the game, and I believe there have been recent surveys that suggest that frequently heading a ball can lead to brain injury, although the ones I have seen have only been for a very small sample size.

  6. I wish I knew what percentage of concussions from Princeton students happened in PE class versus on the athletic fields. Also, what percentage of concussions happen in competition versus practice. I have been told that a high percentage of the concussions during last school year happened in PE class.

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