Can New Helmet Technology Reduce Lacrosse Concussions?

MaxLax 75X75Guest contributor John Iavarone has become familiar with a new helmet technology, “soft caps’, that is being used in football to reduce concussions, and submitted the following article discussing the technology and the potential use of soft caps in lacrosse.We offer a heartfelt thanks for his advocacy of the safety or our athletes and opening the discussion on this important topic.

Lacrosse is the fastest growing team sport in America, which seems a bit odd when you consider it’s also the oldest team sport in America. Over the last couple of decades, youth sports in America overall has evolved into a rite of passage for children to have their obligatory experience in team sports. The idea that everyone receives a trophy and plays equally has ruffled the feathers of the hard core sportsmen for years, arguing that we are breeding mediocrity. This argument might hold water when you consider that lacrosse was invented by Native Americans to keep men fit and aggressive for war during times of peace. We’ll come back to this.

Sports are not for everyone, but I think the competition in team sports provide many valuable life lessons and at some point everyone will find their own direction, whether in sports, music or anything else. But how does this all relate to lacrosse? With the rapid rise of lacrosse in America, it holds a distinct advantage over other collision sports like football and hockey. There are head injuries and collisions in all sports. In fact, according to the MedStar Health Research Institute, after football, women’s soccer has the highest occurrence of head injuries in high school sports, not lacrosse. There could be many theories for this, but I believe the reason is a proactive approach to training and learning. For nearly a century, the head was used as a weapon in the game of football and today the game is as violent as ever, even with the emphasis on safer contact and rule changes to discourage contact with the head. The problem is, the culture, mentality and muscle memory is imbedded into today’s game of football and will probably require a generation to educate and change America’s most popular sport. Until then unfortunately, the injuries, lawsuits, negligence and tragedies will continue.

As lacrosse continues to gain popularity, particularly on the west coast, the opportunity to teach the game with safety and injury prevention in mind provides that advantage. So, does a newer, gentler approach insult the deep rooted traditions of lacrosse that’s embedded in the north eastern United States and Canada? Absolutely not! Many perceive lacrosse as another barbaric collision sport like hockey and football, but nothing could be further from the truth. Is lacrosse a rough and tumble sport? Yes. But the real beauty of America’s oldest team sport is in its skill, speed, timing, execution, team work and continuity. Like the great North Carolina basketball teams of Dean Smith, lacrosse in its purest form resembles that same precision and selfless execution. But there’s got to be more. After all, they wear helmets in lacrosse and there must be a reason for that. Of course there is, there are collisions; head to stick, head to ball, head to ground. This is part of the game no different than a collision at home plate or a basketball player taking the offensive foul. So how do we continue to make the game safer along with proper training and teaching? The answer might be equipment. A company called Guardian Caps in Georgia has developed a new soft shell cap that fits over a football helmet with claims to reduce concussive impact up to 33%. This device has been approved by NFHS (National Federation of State High school Associations) for use in practice and games in all sports with a hard shell helmet.

Helmet technology has been evolving for years so why does this soft shell work? One explanation being because the coefficient of friction is lower on the Guardian cap and has a rated coefficient of friction of 0.27u static and .23u kinetic compared to the polycarbonate shells with an average rated coefficient of friction of 0.31u. As we know from physics, statics and mechanics as well as fluid dynamics that a lower coefficient of friction is much better in this case because the less coefficient friction on two moving bodies when they collide results in less transfer of energy, heat, force, at time of impact or when the two objects meet. Meaning the less time that is spent in direct impact the less transference of force or energy at that point in time to the head. How’s that for a technical explanation? I can’t take credit for anything other than sharing it with you. The bottom line is there are companies developing new technologies to keep our children safer. The question we should be asking about lacrosse is, should we be utilizing the same helmet technology to make the game safer. I think the answer is obvious.

I should tell you now that I became a lacrosse fan for the first time in 2013. I ‘m a high school varsity assistant football coach that has pigskin lined veins for my football blood to flow through. I grew up in the north east and was aware of a sport called lacrosse, but I didn’t become acquainted with it until my son played his first high school season this year in SoCal and now I’m hooked. My son also played football until recently; until we decided that his last concussion left us with far too much uncertainty for him to continue playing. It was a painful but logical decision. I only wish that the Guardian product was around sooner; it may have made a difference and may not. I just want every available safety resource for all kids. Now lacrosse does not have collisions like football; no sport does. However, the play is rough enough to justify a hard shell helmet. Any hard shell helmet is subject to the same formula mentioned above. Putting soft caps on lacrosse helmets can demonstrate a progressive side that football lacked for so long and keeping this sport safe will ensure its continued growth.

As I mentioned earlier, sport was created to keep men fit and ready for war during times of peace. Our world has changed, war has changed and sport is now entertainment. Our children play sports for fun, entertainment and healthy competition; key word being healthy. We are obligated to research this new helmet technology and maybe one day the oldest sport in America will become one of the safest and that’s good for everyone.