Late last week the National Federation of High Schools’ (NFHS) Board of Directors passed a resolution to mandate the required use of protective eyewear for athletes playing high school field hockey. This mandate will become effective upon the new 2011 scholastic year beginning this fall.
This is an interesting topic within field hockey and an unsettling situation for field hockey in the USA. The NFHS has allowed for the voluntary use of goggles for years. Both the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and USA Field Hockey allow for voluntary use of protective eyewear that does not protrude from the face in certain situations (medical for FIH) and USA Field Hockey provides the athlete the option, but does not make the use of protective eyewear mandatory.
The lay argument for the use of goggles is that protective goggles will protect athletes from injury around and in the eye socket area. Intuitively, you would think that made sense, but looking further into the matter is a full range of detail that does not readily meet the eye.
The argument goes that goggles currently in the marketplace adversely affect an athlete’s peripheral and downward vision. Many of the goggles used in hockey today are designed to accommodate lacrosse, which is an aerial game.
Field hockey is a ground-based game. Excellent vision downward and natural side vision, without the need to lower the head or turn from side-to-side, are a necessity for good playing technique, maximum reaction time, and to provide for safety.
Another more psychological aspect of the game, especially among those that are young, is the concern that the provision of some protective gear, such as goggles, often makes the athlete feel impervious to injury. It is sort of a Superwoman/man feel that can result in athletes taking risks that without the protective gear they would not take. This behavior not only places the risk-taking athlete in line for injury, but potentially others that the athlete may encounter in the process.
Since the NFHS decision was made, I have had the opportunity to speak to Elliot Hopkins, NFHS Director of Educational Services and Field Hockey Rules Editor, and Bob Gardner, the NFHS Executive Director. Please remember that USA Field Hockey does not administer the 50 high school athletic associations throughout the country, and the closest thing to a one-stop shop for high school athletic associations is the NFHS (high school athletic associations are typically independent).
The perspective Elliot and Bob have is one of safety for their high school athletes. They rely heavily on their sports medicine committee, and, as you can imagine, most of those types of committees are very sensitive to all things that are of a risk management nature. In other words, the more safety gear, the better. That approach can be simplistic thinking as unintended consequences will surely follow.
The NFHS will fundamentally disagree with the FIH and USA Field Hockey on the usefulness of protection through eyewear. We will see confusion in the marketplace as the NFHS allows the use of wire-frame/cage goggles that protrude from the face, which the FIH and USA Field Hockey do not permit because that style of device is considered dangerous. Further, athletes will find playing with and without goggles to be substantially different, and transitioning from high school to college play will likely erode quality of play.
Protective eyewear will continue to be optional for athletes participating in USA Field Hockey events. USA Field Hockey allows the use of a smooth, preferable transparent or white but otherwise dark, plain colored face mask which fits flush with the face, soft protective head-covering or eye protection in the form of plastic goggles. Cage style protection will continue to be prohibited at all USA Field Hockey events.