Football Helmet Safety Tips

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There is a growing trend in high school and youth football where players are buying their own helmets for use at practices and games. Traditionally all equipment, including helmets, are provided by the youth programs or high schools where the athletes participate. The advantage of this is all helmets are required to be reconditioned following each season by a National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) approved provider.

All helmets are required to have completed NOCSAE inspection and meet their standards before they can be used in competition. NOCSAE requires “the complete disassembly of all helmet parts, cleaning, sanitizing, replacement of worn parts and shell inspection” before a helmet can be released for use in another season. Helmet use is limited to 10 consecutive seasons if the helmet has suffered no shell damage. Helmets purchased by an athlete will have to undergo the same reconditioning and receive the NOCSAE approved sticker before they can be used in competition.

Helmet Fitting Guidelines

Proper fit and use are two of the biggest concerns with helmet wear and preventing injury. Athletes should never try to make a play by coming in for a hit with their head down or hitting with the crown of the helmet. This puts the athlete and their opponent at risk for serious injury. Players are routinely instructed by coaches to keep their heads up when making contact.

Football players are notorious for trying to play with their helmets too loose to try and make their helmets more comfortable. Wearing loose helmets during play also increases the risk for a head or facial injury. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) helmets should fit using the following guidelines:

  • Athletes should have the circumference of their head measured 1 inch above the eyebrows to determine the correct size per each manufacturer.
  • Helmets should not have any gaps between the cheek pads and face and should fit snugly.
  • The helmet should sit two finger widths above the eyebrows and cover the base of the skull.
  • Players’ helmets should not move side to side or up and down when looking, and the player should feel pressure on the crown of the head, not the brow, when pushing down on the top.

Players should be aware that helmet fit can change throughout the season with things like temperature change and even haircuts. Most helmets have air cushioning that can be inflated or deflated to help ensure a secure fit. Hardware on the helmet should be inspected for any loose straps, padding or screws and fixed before use.

Josh Linton, M.A., A.T., A.T.C., is a certified athletic trainer at MidMichigan Health.

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