Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby Divalent » Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:34 pm

rainbowgirl28 wrote:I think as long as we still have so much progress to make with improving coaching education and facilities, that making helmets mandatory is ill-advised. ...


I do agree that, if you had to chose just one, and that choice could be fully implemented, then better coaching, better education of both coaches and vaulters on safety issues, and better facilities would be far more effective. The problem is that, IMO, at both the HS and the college level, there are limits to what can be achieved here due to practical constraints. Based on my experience at the HS level, very few vaulters (~10%) have a decent school coach that is fully informed of the issues. (The best vaulters get coaching outside the school.) The event is so technically and uniquely demanding (of both athletes and coaches) that the typical distance or sprint coach head coach is just not interested in investing the time and money to get a coach that would meet the qualifications that are applicable for just one event. And so at a lot of schools the vaulters have minimal supervision at best.

Although not quite as bad, even at the college level, my survey of what colleges have in the way of PV coaches suggests that nearly a majority of those that compete the event either have no coach at all or the PV coach is an expert in some other area (throws, horizontal jumps, sprints) with no real experience, and they are just nominally assigned to the event it just to fill the gap. They are merely token “PV coaches”, and the proof of such is that they don’t attract the better HS vaulters and their athletes don’t really progress much beyond their HS marks.

But the choices are not mutually exclusive, because helmets protect against some risks that are not eliminated by education. So *IF* helmets are a net safety improvement, there is no need to just do one or the other.

Anyway, Becca, I curious how you feel about this: What if they designed a helmet that was missing the protective area on the back of the head, so that it couldn’t produce any addition head rotation with a normal safe landing, but would protect the sides, top, and front of the skull? In terms of protecting against impact against objects other than the pit, not quite as good, but 80% as good as a full helmet. Since we have eliminated the danger of this hyperflexion issue (and bypassed the argument about whether it actually is a real risk or not), wouldn’t that be a reasonable compromise?

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby vaulterx » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:20 pm

Back in 2007 I was in a freak pole vaulting accident that required me to receive Life Flight to a hospital. What happened was that my pole broke into three pieces and somehow one of those pieces hit me in the back on the head with enough force to cause a skull fracture and brain hemorrhaging. I actually landed safely in the coaches box. To this day I still DO NOT wear a helmet when I vault. It was a freak accident and that is usually were all catastrophic vaulting injuries can be placed, in the freak accident category. The one thing that will make vaulting safer and both college and high school levels is not to mandate helmets but serve schools with fines for not having their vaulting pits and areas in line with safety rules. Simple things like making sure you have a regulation size pit or bigger (bigger is a plus) and having all hard surfaces around the pit covered with sufficient padding and making sure that the area is free of any obstructions (ie hurdles sitting too close to the pit ect). As for trying to prevent the freak accidents, well you cant stop a lightning strike and making all college vaulters were helmets to try and prevent the one freak accident a year that "may or may not" have been prevented by wearing a helmet in the first place. I know my accident leans far to the "may not" side.

Topic about the accident.
http://polevaultpower.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=47&t=14063
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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:41 pm

I think that people overestimate how often helmets would be able to help.

Improving coaching education helps with almost ALL types of injuries except for true freak accidents like Joe just described. Joe's injury was truly a freak accident. Perhaps he chose the wrong pole and that's why it broke, but we all know sometimes poles just break with the slightest scratch that no one is even aware of.

Most catastrophic injuries are not really freak accidents... mistakes were made in technique, pole selection, etc. that caused something to go horribly wrong. Bad facilities can make the problem worse. So maybe a helmet would help, but maybe it's just sticking a band-aid on a problem and not fixing the problem.

I think mandating helmets without also making drastic changes in coaching education is just sticking a band-aid on a problem... and a rather expensive band-aid at that.

Currently the helmets that meet the ASTM standard cost $54 each (and if helmets are required, they'll meet this standard).

My friend who coaches at a mid-major DI school has 15 vaulters... 5 men, 5 women, and 5 decathletes. That's probably more than average of ALL colleges, but about average for schools that are serious about the vault. That's a total of $810. No price is too much to pay if it really makes a difference in PV safety, but frankly I'd rather see that money go toward a good coaching education clinic, a good box collar, etc.

The discussion of PV helmets focuses on a very narrow type of injuries... catastrophic injuries. Which are of course crucially important. But in the big picture, we probably all know people that have broken bones, blown out knees, torn shoulders, etc etc while pole vaulting. Coaching education reduces those types of injuries as well, so ultimately you're getting a lot more bang for your buck.

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby PVJunkie » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:43 pm

I agree that coaching education is paramount HOWEVER its cost to develop, implement and maintain would easily exceed the cost of helmets. Using USATF's level programs as a benchmark they have also proven to be less than adequate at achieving even a moderate level of advancement in coaching ability and knowledge.

A single class once a year will not solve anything. The costs, developing the lessons/establishing certified instructors/hosting the classes/travel/meals etc. will add up to more than that same program would incur for 10 helmets. How much does it cost to attend a level one school if you have to drive/fly to attend? Who would be responsible for those costs? Certainly the cost to register would not be free.

They are related but they are two uniquely different topics. You cannot fight against helmets with a coaching education argument. Mandatory coaching education is ANOTHER topic all together.

Helmets are a unique and personal piece of equipment. I don’t think it would be out of the question to require the athlete to provide their own. I wouldn’t want to share a helmet given the hygiene aspects of a sweaty helmet. Realistically the cost is one helmet per vaulter every 2 to 4 years depending on wear and tear. I don’t think a new helmet would need to be purchased every year for each vaulter, only a new vaulter (Brian, how often do you replace your helmet?). YES the initial cost would be higher (10 vaulters @ 54.00) for year one but after that its a minimal yearly cost depending on the # of unique new vaulters you get.

Bad facilities are already addressed in the rules in many ways. It is shameful that schools choose not to enforce them (at home or at an away event) but this is also another topic not directly related to helmet or no helmet. I for one speak up on a regular basis to coaches and administrators at schools about unsafe environments (ask my son) when I go to high school and college events.

This is a debate (so far I have been playing the PRO HELMET side, kinda) and we must build a STRONG case to against mandating the wearing of a helmet. While I concede that there are other topics that could be debated they do not fit into this one.

FYI - I just had a 35 min discussion with one of a handful of people, Jan Johnson, I believe has spent as much time thinking about helmets as me. He is neutral as well and is currently working on some other areas of concern (some mentioned in parts of this discussion) but agrees that the "against mandating" group has a very weak case right now and the "for mandating" is holding all the chips.

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby PVJunkie » Wed Oct 27, 2010 4:50 pm

Anyway, Becca, I curious how you feel about this: What if they designed a helmet that was missing the protective area on the back of the head, so that it couldn’t produce any addition head rotation with a normal safe landing, but would protect the sides, top, and front of the skull? In terms of protecting against impact against objects other than the pit, not quite as good, but 80% as good as a full helmet. Since we have eliminated the danger of this hyperflexion issue (and bypassed the argument about whether it actually is a real risk or not), wouldn’t that be a reasonable compromise?



The ASTM as it is currently written would not allow for this design. It has a max thickness requirement for the back of the helmet AND a minimum coverage that reads something like "must extend far enough to cover the base of the skull". That is not to say the ASTM could not be revised but that would take years and given that one of the driving forces behind the development of the ASTM was the back of the head contacting the box area its unlikely to be an option.

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 5:04 pm

To be clear, I am not anti-helmet by any means. I'm just not for forcing everyone to wear them.

As PVJunkie said, eliminating the back of the helmet would never fly.

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby vaultwest » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:17 pm

What data has been collected that would show that the catastrophic accidents that have happened to vaulters would have turned out better if the vaulter had been wearing a helmet. I am neutral on this subject, I don't have my vaulters wear a helmet but if one wants to I would certainly let them. My concern is that if we have a catastrophic accident with a helmeted athlete our event will be in an even more precarious state. I have read or heard, and perhaps this is incorrect info, that the helmets that we currently use are small enough so as to not get in the way of the vaulter and they do not have the impact resistance needed for falls above 5 or 6 feet. So would we be advocating for a false sense of security. Totally dead is bad but mostly dead isn't much better. Bad joke but I hope you get my meaning.
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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby Decamouse » Wed Oct 27, 2010 7:32 pm

If and that is a big if - it every is mandated it will be a rule requirment driven by the mighty buck -- if to get Insured it is required (USATF Sanction) or for schools - their insurance carrier

Hockey players used to never wear helmets! How many do you see now in college or NHL! Why -- because the rules say so - why the rule change -

Since I sit on the ASTM sub group -- the feelings of that group have moved back back and forth as to should they be required -- not a clear or easy choice
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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby PVPhD » Sat Nov 06, 2010 10:21 pm

I have not contributed to PVPower in quite a while, but, since I am the Chair of the ASTM Pole Vault Equipment Subcommittee and I was co-chair of the ASTM pole vault helmet task group that developed ASTM F2400-Standard Specifications for Helmets Used in Pole Vaulting I think I should contribute my opinion here.

I continue to try to remain neutral regarding the mandated use of helmets in pole vaulting. For those concerned about possible neck hyperflexion injuries resulting from helmet use, I encourage you to read the following research article:

Rebella, G.S., Edwards, J. O., Greene, J.J., Husen, M.T., & Brousseau, D.C. (2008). A prospective study of injury patterns in high school pole vaulters. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, v. 36, #5, pp. 913-920.

Rebella, et al, analyzed information regarding injuries reported by certified athletic trainers for a cohort of 140 Wisconsin high school pole vaulters during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. During this period, Wisconsin required its high school pole vaulters to wear helmets. NO NECK INJURIES WERE REPORTED. The athletes were asked about helmet use and "19% of the athletes believed that wearing one prevented an injury."

On the other hand, a helmet that meets ASTM F2400 Standard Specification for Helmets Used in Pole Vaulting is only required to limit the impact acceleration of the head form to less than 300 g from a drop height of only 2 m onto a flat steel plate. 300 g is considered to be the threshold acceleration for a catastrophic head injury. The introduction to the pole vault helmet standard standard states that a helmet might be helpful, but it is unlikely to prevent a catastrophic head injury or death if a vaulter misses the pit and strikes his or her head on a hard surface after falling from a typical vault height. A helmet offers much more protection than no helmet, however, if you strike your head on a hard surface.

If you want input to the development of ASTM standards for pole vaulting equipment - I invite anyone to participate in the next ASTM F08.67 Pole Vault Equipment Subcommittee meeting. The next meeting is on Thursday, November 18, from 9 am to 4 pm in the Grand Hyatt San Antonio in San Antonio, TX. I will be attending, as will Jan Johnson, and Dr. Wilson SooHoo (I think). Decamouse is another regular attendee of this meeting - not sure if he will be there this year, though. Rainbow Girl attended last year's meeting in Atlanta. The morning will be spent discussing the ASTM F1162 Standard Specification for Pole Vault Landing Systems. We'll break from lunch and then spend the afternoon deciding whether or not to develop a standard for the pole vault box - the remaining hard surface that is not padded and thus a potential impact site that may cause catastrophic injury to a pole vaulter. You do not need to be a member of ASTM to participate in the meeting. If you want voting privileges, however, membership is required - but you can join for only $75 for a year.

If you have questions about this committee - send me a message.

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby superpipe » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:24 am

I'm glad to see a study was done, but I do have to say it's very limited. You would really need a nation wide study of all head impacts. Obviously that's alot of resource required to complete a study like that. The Wisconsin study doesn't really tell us much. You have more data than me, but I assume direct head impacts due to pole vaulting are still considered very "rare" in the nation. Do you have more details from that Wisconsin study? How many, of any type of, head impacts were reported through that year in the state vs. just any injury? I'd be curious to know how many of the nation's "major" head injuries ever, were caused by landing in the plant box vs. anywhere else. My educated guess is that is the area of real concern which Jan has put alot of time into. It's a touchy subject for sure, but that Wisconsin study doesn't help much. Didn't Wisconsin remove the requirement of helmet use anyway?

Better education, as rainbowgirl stated before, on teaching the pole vault is one true effective answer. Of course that is an extremely large task. Every sport has it's freak accidents.

Anyone know about head injury stats and helmet discussions that relate to gymnastics? That's the next closest sport in relation.
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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby rainbowgirl28 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:19 am

Here's an interesting (though somewhat old) discussion about headgear in (equestrian) vaulting:
http://asci.uvm.edu/equine/law/amea/may96nws.htm
And another: http://falconwoodvaulters.com/safety.aspx

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Re: Should college vaulters be required to wear helmets?

Unread postby AllaboutPV1 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:15 pm

Helmets should be worn by choice of the vaulter. i don't feel like an object rated for a 4 foot fall is going to help much coming from a 17ft+ fall. also i feel like wearing helmets will create a false sense of confidence. wearing this helmet will make me a safe jumper type of thing. there are freak accidents, but for the most part i don't think it should be a mandated NCAA rule. They should be worn at your own risk.


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