Pole Vaulting: Should Helmets Be Required?
Pole Vaulting is a sport that many people have never seen, or know little about. The objective of this event is to use a pole to clear a bar. To do this, the vaulter must have a lot of momentum, obtained by running. Next, the vaulter places one end of the pole in a pre-manufactured hole, called “the box.” Bending the pole, the vaulter swings upside down so when the pole unbends, it will throw him up in the air. At this point, the vaulter clears the bar, or misses, and then falls to a large foam cushioning called pits. This is the basics to the vault, and the vault should stay that way.
In the past few years, the event has been change at the high school level. Done for “the vaulters safety,” it starts to interfere with the fun and excitement that is part of vaulting. One of the biggest rule changes, rule 7-4-3, states that a vaulter may not weigh more than the manufacturers’ pole rating (NFSHSA 48). Because of rule 7-4-3, a proposal has been made. This proposal states that a vaulter must wear a helmet [in competition] in order to vault (Johnson 3-4). This “might be” rule is unfair and unneeded for high school vaulters. First, more injuries will occur because of the lacking funds for coaching. The more equipment that is required the more costs increase and the less money coaches get, which results in a coach leaving and young vaulters trying to teach themselves. Secondly, forcing a vaulter to wear a helmet may only cause more injuries due to mental impairment that occurs . Finally, helmets will eliminate any fun that is apart of this rare sport, by changing the sport from a sport to a giant precaution.
Due to the difficulty of the event, without the right coaching, a young vaulter has no idea what to do. It is a traditional rumor that the higher a vaulter holds on a pole, the higher he or she will jump. Unfortunately, due to physics, this is not necessarily true. If a beginner is doing things wrong, the outcome could be a concussion, or even worse, a terminal injury (Johnson 2). Good coaching eliminates that by teaching the vaulter how to bend the pole holding low and then raising his or her grip. Since rule, 7-4-3 started two years ago, many coaches have left the small school because of the cost cutting that took place. The small school had to invest in more poles so the vaulter would not exceed the manufactures’ pole rating (Johnson 4). This cost can be anywhere from two to four hundred dollars. Before the rule, though, if the vault did not have a coach, he or she could use a small pole and get away with incorrect technique. Now, after rule 7-4-3, the young vaulter may be trying to use a pole that he or she will not be able to bend. Without a coach, the kid may not learn how to bend the pole, resulting in many concussions. If helmets are required the small schools would again have to invest more money into equipment taking away from coaching salaries, thus some coaches may find another school, and the kids will have to teach themselves. Adding more equipment, such as helmets, may cause coaches to leave the school, and in the end cause more injuries.
Injuries also occur from mental impairment. If a vaulter is mentally distracted in some way by a piece of equipment, such as a helmet, he or she may not be able to vault correctly ending in an injury. Many gurus of the vault believe that the event is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical. If this is the case, then mentally a vaulter must be prepared and distraction free. Dave Hurst, a ten-year coach from Kenwick, Washington, wrote a reply to an article about the proposed helmet rule. He stated that since rule 7-4-3 began two years ago, he has had ten more injuries than his first eight years as a coach. Some of this he associates with the discomfort of using unfamiliar poles. He says that if the vaulter is not confident with what he or she is doing then he or she will not be able to perform safely (Johnson 5). Another coach from Clemson, South Carolina, David Kaiser, remembers when football pads were rarely used, and helmets were made of leather. After changing mandatory helmets to a hard plastic and adding the requirement of pads, injuries started to increase and become more severe. He believes that this is true because it made the players feel “in-destructible (Johnson 6).” What would happen if a vaulter felt “in-destructible”? Results the same as those in football would be devastating to the sport. Helmets interfere with a vaulters mentality by making them less confidant or too confident. Either way, the vaulter may end up missing the pits and injuring himself.
The object of vaulting is not to prevent injuries, even thought that is important. Most vaulters, including me, vault for fun. This is what the vault is about (Johnson 3). There is this giant rush when coming down from the jump. Every time I make a height I have never made before, I experience one of the best moments in my life. If I had to wear a helmet, I would quit, and miss out on any more of these feelings generated from vaulting. It is not up to the members of some organization to decide whether I am capable of vaulting safely without a helmet. For me, the event would be change completely, from a sport to a giant precaution, and I feel that helmets are unfair to any vaulter that does not want to wear one.
Though helmets are unfair to vaulters, not all vaulters feel the same way I do. Some feel safe wearing a helmet and chose to do so on their own. Changing the proposal to read something in the way of, “all schools must provide helmets for any vaulters who want to use them,” would be justified. Then if a vaulter felt comfortable with a helmet he could wear one. In addition, a school would have to worry about buying a helmet unless an athlete asked for one. Finally, any vaulter feeling like it is unfair to force anyone to wear a helmet would not have to wear one.
National Federation of State High School Associations. 1998 Track and Field Rules
Book. Ed. Jerry L. Diehl. Kansas City, Missouri: NFHS Publications:
Robert F. Kanaby, 1998. 48.
Johnson, Jan. “Helmet Recommendation Proposal.” Online. Netscape. World Wide Web.
2 February 1998. Available: http://www.polevault.com/safety.html. 2-6.