Goggle Use Examined

Field hockey and lacrosse debate the use of goggles.

By Staff

Athletic Management, 13.6, October/November 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1306/bbgoggles.htm

For years, eye doctors have publicly urged athletes to use protective eyewear in many sports. While some of their efforts have succeeded (for example, face guards are now common in ice hockey), most other high school and collegiate sports have dismissed protective eyewear as impractical and unnecessary.

Now, however, two sports are at the forefront of the eye-protection question: women's lacrosse and high school field hockey. As of this fall, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) requires protective eyewear for all field hockey players. And the NCAA is exploring whether to take a similar step in women's lacrosse.

A proposal to require goggles in NCAA women's championship play was first proposed by the NCAA's Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports in June 2000. The issue is now being studied by a special panel, the Women's Lacrosse Protective Eyewear Project Team, which includes coaches, officials, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and organizers of the championships from each NCAA division. The team is chaired by Nancy Burke, Athletic Trainer at South Lakes High School in Falls Church, Va., who also represents the sport's national governing body, U.S. Lacrosse.

This isn't the first time U.S. Lacrosse has encountered the issue. Several years ago, at the request of some parents and coaches, the organization specified in its rule book that protective eyewear is allowed as an option but the gear must meet a standard for sports protective eyewear set by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM). ASTM's sports facilities and equipment division developed a standard for lacrosse eyewear, and manufacturers started offering them.

A major question now is whether the standard is appropriate for the college women's game, where the athletes are stronger and ball and stick speeds are presumably much higher than in high school. The style of stick has also changed since the eyewear option was written into the U.S. Lacrosse rules.

Another concern is whether protective eyewear might give women players a greater sense of security and lead to more risk taking. Unlike the men's game, restrictions on checking in the women's game create an imaginary halo around players' heads in which sticks are forbidden.

"Will [mandatory eye protection] put women in a comfortable spot where they'll go head-first into a situation?"asks Burke. "Even though it's illegal, will they tend to risk checking around the head? We don't really know. How do you test that?"

Experience in central New York state suggests no. Goggles have been required by Section III of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association for several years, according to Doug Rowe, who has been Head Coach of Girls' Lacrosse at Baldwinsville High School for 11 years, play hasn't become more aggressive or dangerous. And the goggle requirement hasn't hurt players who went on to college, including Division I, he adds.

As for player acceptance, "If you don't allow the kids to make it an issue, they're fine,"Rowe says. "We tell them, 'A rule's a rule. Put 'em on.'"

The Massachusetts directive for field hockey has also had its share of question marks. The rule was first announced in February 2000 on the heels of lawsuits over devastating student-athlete injuries in New England. It then ran into a dead end until appropriate goggles for the sport could be found. Now implemented, some coaches aren't sure they agree with the rule.

Donna Woodcock, Head Coach at Greenfield High School in western Massachusetts, and winner of two state championships in two different divisions, says the effect on vision frustrates the players, even after wearing them since the first practice in everything except conditioning runs and stretching. The model that meets all MIAA-recommended standards fogs up, especially at night, she says.

Woodcock estimates she's had only three or four player eye injuries requiring stitches in her 20 years at Greenfield and believes too little research was done to justify the mandate that singles-out field hockey. "Let's get a database to see what the number-one injury is, what sports these injuries occur in, and what are the options to decrease the likelihood of injuries in athletics,"she says. "I don't think a thorough study has been done on the situation."

Virginia is another state debating and experimenting with goggles, in both field hockey and lacrosse. Chad Byler, Assistant Athletic Director and Athletic Trainer at Norfolk Academy, helped to get a mandate passed requiring goggles for both sports in the Tidewater Conference and saw his players go from incurring nine major eye injuries in three years to none in the three years the rule has been in effect.

Other athletic trainers, however, would like to see more scientific data on eye injuries. "Is there proof that goggles are effective?"asks Jon Almquist, Specialist for the athletic training program in the Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools. "You would assume that the answer is yes, but we do not have the data to actually support that. We can only assume that if the person had goggles on, that the eye won't be injured to the extent that it is without them."

Physicians' Statement

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a joint statement in early 1996 on "Protective Eyewear for Youth Athletes."The organizations recommend mandatory protective eyewear for all functionally one-eyed individuals and for athletes who have had eye surgery or trauma and whose ophthalmologists recommend eye protection. They strongly recommend protective eyewear for all other athletes and include a list of types of protection for 24 sports. For field hockey and women's lacrosse, they recommend sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses and add that helmets with full-face protection should be optional for women's lacrosse.

The full text is on the Web site of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, at www.aao.org.