Most adolescent lacrosse and hockey players have been found to indulge in rough games, avoiding helmets and gloves, placing them at increased risk of serious injuries such as concussions and others. The results of the study have been published in the Journal of Sport Medicine.
'Helmets and gloves'—sometimes known as 'locker boxing' or 'helmet boxing'—is an underrecognized activity that needs to be curtailed through appropriate monitoring and policy, writes Dr. Kevin Eric Gordon of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, lead author of the editorial.
In the game, two players—usually teammates—box while wearing their uniform helmets and gloves. Only punches to the head are allowed—the fight ends when one player gives up or has his helmet knocked off. The teen athletes view the game as a 'time-honoured test of manhood' or of the toughness needed to play hockey or lacrosse.
Dr. Gordon and coauthors describe three teen athletes with probable or definite concussions related to 'helmets and gloves.' All were hockey players between 13 and 15 years old—one was a girl. All of the injuries went undetected for days or longer because of secrecy by the participants and spectators. In one case, an athlete who was knocked unconscious was dragged out of sight to when a coach came to the door. Some of the injuries weren't recognized until weeks or months later, and only when the players were asked specifically about playing 'helmets and gloves.'
The teens played their next scheduled hockey game, despite headaches and other symptoms that took days to clear up. 'Concussion experts cringe when hearing about cases like this,' comments Dr. Gordon. 'Under current guidelines, these athletes would NOT have been allowed to play until all their concussion symptoms had completely resolved, and then only after a gradual return-to-play protocol. By playing with a concussion, they may have been placing themselves at risk of a more substantive injury.'
Teen athletes may feel they are immune to injury, especially since they are wearing their protective equipment. If peer pressure to participate is strong enough, 'helmets and gloves' may constitute a form of hazing. ''Helmets and gloves'...is an adolescent risk-taking behaviour with significant potential for concussion,' the researchers write.
With the secrecy surrounding this activity, it's difficult to estimate how often it occurs, although anecdotal evidence suggests it is very common. Discussions and even videos of teens 'locker boxing' are easily found on the Internet. In Dr. Gordon's experience, many hockey players treated for concussions have either witnessed or played 'helmets and gloves.'
The researchers urge action to address the problem, beginning with monitoring and education by coaches and parents. Hockey and lacrosse leagues and organizations should review and enforce policies prohibiting this risky and disorderly conduct. 'We believe 'helmets and gloves' is a disturbing activity that is largely unrecognized,' Dr. Gordon comments. 'We hope our article will increase recognition of this activity, thus leading to steps being taken to curtail it.'