By Brian Burnsed and Greg Johnson
While contact sports like football and lacrosse have drawn a great deal of public and media attention regarding health and safety issues, the NCAA and other college athletics and youth sports organizations are not overlooking other sports.
Student-athlete safety in pole vaulting, for one, has been a chief concern for the NCAA in recent years. In partnership with USA Track & Field and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the NCAA Sport Science Institute has taken significant steps to keep pole vault student-athletes safe; including rule changes, techniques and safety education for coaches and competitors alike.
In early 2011, the NCAA convened a meeting of leading sports medicine professionals and college and high school track and field coaches following the death of Grinnell pole vault student-athlete Robert Zhongjie Yin, who fell during competition. Yin was one of three collegiate pole vaulters who died between 2002 and 2011; five more suffered catastrophic injuries (see Table 1). At the meeting, the group of experts relied on injury data and best practices to fuel discussions of how to make the sport safer.
Table 1: Pole Vault Death and Injuries 1982-83 – 2009-10
The group formulated a litany of potential solutions. They considered administering run-up limits by counting run-ups as missed attempts, which could prevent potentially-dangerous fatigue after multiple attempts. They called for consistency across all facilities that host pole vaulting events, including standard runway markings and facility checklists for event officials and coaches that would ensure the facility adheres to health and safety best practices. The group determined that helmets should be considered permissible equipment to help eliminate the risk of catastrophic injuries, such as skull fractures after a long fall. And the experts also strongly recommended that additional exterior padding should be placed in and around the plant box area and landing pad to protect student-athletes who miss their targeted landing.
Two years later, the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) adopted the recommendation requiring that additional padding in and around the pole vault box collar be installed by Dec. 1, 2013, at any facility where an NCAA pole vault competition takes place. The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport (CSMAS) supported the proposal for safety purposes after ASTM International — a nonprofit organization that provides a forum for the development and publication of international voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, systems and services — released a specification standard for padding devices to be used in and around the pole vault box collar, which provided for padding on the part of the box collar arm that extends down the inner sidewall of the pole vault box (referred to as a “box collar wing” in the ASTM specification standard (Designation F2949)).
The NCAA’s pole vault box padding rule requires the padding device to meet the most current ASTM specification standard and be capable of being incorporated into the design of the pole vault box or serve as a padding addition to an existing pole vault box. After receiving information from ASTM officials regarding testing devices that incorporated the new standard and reviewing data and feedback from NCAA coaches currently using new padding devices, the oversight panel felt its concerns about student-athlete injuries caused by impact in and around the pole vault box had been adequately addressed to merit approval of the proposal (see the 2013-14 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Track and Field and Cross Country Rules for more information). To comply with the NCAA pole vault box padding rule, NCAA members must ensure that all pole vault box collars include padding in and around the pole vault box and meet the current ASTM specification standard, which provides for the use of box collar wings.
The NCAA is also working with USA Track & Field and NFHS to help educate student-athletes and coaches about pole vault fundamentals, skills and safety. Together, the group has launched an online learning module for track and field coaches and student-athletes. The course covers how to safely instruct a beginner, the basic laws of physics that govern pole vaulting and proper use of equipment, among other topics. It can be accessed through the new SSI Learn resources page SSILearn.org or via NFHSlearn.com.
Last Updated: Oct 11, 2013