Psychology of the ”Gladiator Effect” and Women's Lacrosse

Psychology and Injury Prevention

Posted Aug 03, 2017

Laura Miele, PhD
Source: Laura Miele, PhD

Today, while reviewing my student’s comments regarding the use of helmets in Women’s Lacrosse for a course I teach at Ohio University, “Performance and Conditioning for Coaches,” something caught my attention.  There is an ongoing debate on the use of helmets and the possibility of it creating a “Gladiator Effect,” meaning that it would create a more belligerent athlete. I found this quite interesting being that Lacrosse in general is a high contact sport and the idea of the use of helmets is primarily due to ball to head, or stick to head, contact.  The concern is that with the use of helmets, these athletes would become more aggressive and in turn incur more head to head contact. The psychology around this amazes me, because the debate is whether or not helmets should be worn. As the rules stand now, female lacrosse athletes have a choice.  I cannot understand how, in this day and age, we are more aware of concussion and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) than ever before, yet we are more concerned with the fact that our girls will become too aggressive.  Why is there a choice with something that may in fact potentially reduce the occurrence a life threatening or brain altering injury? 

Abachuk & Johnson (2017) article, “Helmets in women’s lacrosse: what the evidence shows,” discusses how U.S. women’s lacrosse ranks only second to American football in the incidence rate of concussions.  So, where is the debate for the use of helmets?  The article further discusses the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International) Standard F3137 as the first ever performance standard for women’s lacrosse headgear, “developed to reduce the impact of forces associated with stick and ball contact in women’s lacrosse.” This standard was created to assist in the reduction of potential head injuries in the game of Lacrosse.  But, the concern is that helmets would change the game.  Where is the concern for safety?   Safety is paramount in this situation. 

Abachuk and Johnson (2017) create an excellent argument in terms of cost-benefit risk analysis. Due to the aggressive nature within certain sports, head injury is a serious risk.  Regardless, if the psychology is that the use of helmets in women's lacrosse would make these athletes more aggressive, it is important to convey that there are still risks within the sport of lacrosse.  This has already been demonstrated through the research and injury surveillance.  

What if the psychological premise “Gladiator Effect” is incorrect?  Do we not mandate a safe practice due to a concept? Subsequently, once an athlete incurs a serious injury and/or a TBI, there are more psychological issues that they will have to contend with.  Unless the “Gladiator effect” is a proven concept, nothing should halt a standard for helmet use or any other method of injury prevention. In fact, psychologically, athletes may feel safer using helmets and they may even become better players. 


Abchuk, R. & Johnson, B. (2017). Helmets in women's lacrosse: what the evidence shows. Concussion, 2(2).

American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) F3137 - 15  Standard Specification for Headgear Used in Women’s Lacrosse (excluding Goalkeepers)