The use of protective equipment is an important element in many sports, including lacrosse, to ensure the safest possible environment for players and to reduce the risk of injury.
Some protective lacrosse equipment – helmets and chest protection for men’s and women’s goalies, helmets and chest protection for men’s field players, and eyewear and optional headgear for women - have a required performance standard that must be met in order to be certified for play. Other equipment, such as mouthguards and gloves, have no standard.
Who determines that a certain type of equipment should meet a performance standard? And how is that standard developed?
These were some of the questions addressed by the panelists on the LaxCon 2021 session, “Equipment Standards and Certification.”
“We go where the data shows us that interventions may be appropriate,” said Dr. Shane Caswell of George Mason University, who serves as a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee.
Caswell and his committee colleagues, who represent both the medical and scientific communities, routinely analyze lacrosse injury data and research data to identify possible areas for improved player safety. They also evaluate the evidence to determine whether a piece of equipment could be developed to reduce the risk of injury, and if so, what that equipment should be doing.
The most recent example of this process is the new requirement, which went into effect on January 1, for goalie chest protection that meets performance standard ND200. Goalies in both men’s and women’s lacrosse have always used chest protection, but these products never had a standard.
In order to mitigate the risk of commotio cordis injuries, a product standard was developed through research and testing that would reduce the risk of that injury.
While existing research is always helpful, in some cases the Sports Science & Safety Committee, with the support of US Lacrosse, will commission new research to gather further evidence. Since its inception in 1998, US Lacrosse has invested over $1 million in injury research.
“Our role is to bring together key stakeholders, from manufacturers to consumers and other health and safety experts,” said Ann Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse. “We bring the issues to the table that need to be addressed. Not every conversation ends up with a standard, but sometimes, they lead to clearer language in our rules.”
US Lacrosse works directly with both NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) and ASTM International (known formerly as the American Society for Testing and Materials) to develop performance standards for lacrosse equipment.
“As an accredited standards developer, we’re here to support the process in any way we can,” said Mike Oliver, NOCSAE’s executive director since 1995. Dollars generated by the use of NOCSAE’s certification logo are often re-invested by the organization into additional product research.
“Our sole source of funding is a license fee that we charge a manufacturer for every item that they put into the market and sell,” Oliver said. “That revenue generates enough that we are able to operate a fairly substantial research grant funding program. As an example, we began researching concussions in sports in 1994, and since that time, we have funded a little over $11 million in independent, university-level research on the topic of concussions.”
If a performance standard is developed and approved, equipment manufacturers must build their products to meet the standard. Until recently, manufacturers would self-certify that their products met a standard. To improve quality control, in 2015, an independent organization, SEI (Safety Equipment Institute) was identified as the product certification body for lacrosse equipment.
To help inform consumers, SEI maintains an updated online listing for all certified lacrosse products. Recall notices, if needed, are also announced online.
“SEI operates by working with equipment manufacturers to have their products submitted for testing through accredited testing laboratories,” said Anna Seiple, program director at SEI. “The other part of the SEI certification program involves inspection of factories by SEI auditors. We are assessing if the manufacturer has a system in place to consistently produce quality products.”
The last step in equipment intervention is adoption into the playing rules by the various national governing bodies, which include US Lacrosse, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and the NCAA. The organizations often work together on rule development and player safety.
US Lacrosse has separate rule committees for both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, and rule changes are often approved with significant lead time for implementation. As an example, US Lacrosse approved the use of mandatory chest protection meeting NOCSAE standard ND200 in 2018, but delayed the required use for goalies until 2021 and for boys’ field players until 2022, allowing manufacturers time to design and produce the new equipment.
Additionally, US Lacrosse often invests in research to evaluate the effectiveness of an equipment intervention after it is implemented. Two current field studies are examining the effectiveness of girls’ headgear, which still remains optional for use at all levels of play.
The governing bodies mandate the use of both certified and non-certified equipment as part of the official rules for play.
“Certainly, having a performance standard, whether it comes through ASTM or NOCSAE, really helps to ensure greater compliance, and a greater level of confidence in the product that the athletes are wearing on the field,” Carpenetti said.