It’s important to remember the importance that good gear plays in the safety of youth athletes.
Well-maintained equipment that fits goes a long way toward preventing injuries, and it’s up to each athlete, the athlete’s parents and the athlete’s coaches to ensure that the gear worn by everyone is up to par.
As parents and coaches begin preparations for the upcoming youth football season, we thought it would be helpful to pull together a checklist of all the gear that keeps youth athletes safe. Read on for tips on how to make sure each piece of equipment fits as it should, and how to keep it in gameday condition.
How Should a Football Helmet Fit?
Frank Kuhrasch at Riddell Sports stressed to coaches that helmet fitting should be a part of preseason instruction, even for youth athletes who have been playing the sport since Pee Wee leagues.
“Helmet fitting takes time,” he says. “While every school does it somewhat different, it should
be done in an atmosphere where the player and the individual responsible for fitting can concentrate on the details of the fit. It should not only be an exercise in safety, but an educational experience also (e.g., read the warning label to them and tell them how important it is for them to tell a coach if their helmet is not fitting properly).”
The team at Athletico physical therapy has an excellent checklist for finding the right helmet and gauging its fit:
Start by measuring the athlete’s head circumference, then compare it to available helmet sizes.
Try on the helmet with wet hair to approximate gameday conditions.
It should fit tightly, but still comfortably.
Athletico says the helmet should sit an inch above the brow, and ear holes should align with the ears.
When the fit is right, then you can pull the chin strap around. Note that the strap should easily fit onto the chin and fasten. Don’t use it as a tightening device.
Feel free to tug at the helmet a little to make sure the fit remains even after contact. The doctors at Cleveland Clinic advise players to pull the helmet from side to side and up and down. Laterally, the cheek pads should not slide, they say, and forehead skin should move with the helmet. Vertically, the helmet shouldn’t sag onto the athlete’s nose.
A few more fitting tips from the doctors:
Have someone put a hand on top of the helmet and apply a little bit of pressure. If the pressure feels evenly distributed, that’s a good sign. If it’s concentrated in the front or the back, that’s a sign the fit is poor.
Youth athletes need to wear youth helmets. Adult helmets are too heavy and could cause serious injury to a youth athlete who wears one.
If a visual guide helps, check out the video on sizing a football helmet from Sports Unlimited.
How Should Shoulder Pads Fit?
Riddell has an excellent visual guide to shoulder pad fitting that makes getting this right a breeze:
Measure circumference at the chest and along the contours of the shoulders to get a precise size measurement.
When you find pads in your size, put them on and secure the straps.
There should be no pinching at the collar, and you should still be able to move freely.
In the front: pads should securely cover the chest bone and shoulders.
In the back: pads should securely cover the shoulders.
Other Protective Gear
With pads and helmet fitted properly, you can move on to other safety equipment. At minimum, you will want to buy a mouthguard, a neck roll and an athletic cup. We also suggest a girdle and rib protector.
Here are fitting instructions for all five:
How Should a Mouthguard Fit?
Bobbie Quinn at Gladiator Guards has a four-point checklist to ensure proper mouthguard fit:
You don’t need as much coverage as you might think. Make sure the guard doesn’t extend to the soft palate, which could make you gag.
The guard should, however, cover your gums partially to protect them from cuts.
The guard should fit easily without you having to bite on it or clench your teeth.
The guard should let you still breathe and speak normally.
How Should a Neck Roll Fit?
Neck rolls fit along the back collar of a football jersey, and they’re important for stabilizing the neck during a tackle. Make sure the material is light but durable, sportswriter Colin Linneweber says.
“Despite the need for a clenched fit, the neck roll should still be adjusted in a fashion that allows your neck to breathe comfortably. It is imperative you monitor the neck roll amid play to assure it hasn't fallen out of its proper alignment.”
How Should an Athletic Cup Fit?
For boys, an athletic cup made of hard plastic or metal is essential in contact sports. Traditionally, they’ve been held in place with jockstraps, but many athletes today prefer compression shorts to keep the cup in place, says the team at the Urology Care Foundation.
As far as size, the foundation’s team says Youth sizes fit boys up until around puberty, at which point they should look for Teen sizes. “For a cup to work, it must fit tightly against the body,” they write. “Choose a supporter with a comfortable but secure-fitting waistband, and leg straps tight enough to prevent rolling or twisting. ... [C]heck that the cup and supporter (or compression shorts) are tight enough to prevent movement (but do not pinch) before wearing during a practice or game.”
How Should a Football Girdle Fit?
Football girdles are important for protecting the hips and thighs during a moment of impact. College wrestler Brennen Godeen writes at Campus Men that most girdles match up with waist sizes.
“Once you have tried them on, try pulling them down and moving the hip pads around,” he says. “If they are sliding and moving around very easily, you should consider trying the next lowest size on. You want the girdle to be snug around your waist and hips; you don't want someone to pull them down in a game or worry about readjusting them every second.”
How Should a Rib Protector Fit?
Rib pads add another helpful layer of protection. You can find your fit by measuring the circumference of your chest.
“Most rib pads can either be hooked into the bottom of the shoulder pads or worn separately,” Sean Jackson writes at Made Man. “Ribs pads that are attached to shoulder pads should snap into place as extenders are designed on many shoulder pads. Those that are worn with suspenders need to be put on before shoulder pads, to ensure a proper fit.
“Once the rib pads are in, trace around the pad with your fingers to make sure they are not too tight. While their purpose is to protect you, wearing them too tight may cause injury as well. Test them by jogging in place, pivoting and squatting. The pads should stay in place despite the activity.”
For comfort and performance, we recommend looking into both gloves and base layers, which are the clothes worn under the pads.
What Should You Wear Under Your Pads?
T-shirts are fine under uniforms in most cases as long as they’re made of lightweight cotton, which allows for breathability.
That said, many athletes today are opting for compression shirts and compression tights. There is some evidence, Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times reports, that compression clothings helps with the body’s positioning in space, reduces fatigue and minimizes soreness after practice or a game.
She says that these clothes must fit tightly, which some people find uncomfortable. And to the delight of parents and anyone else around you after a game, you should probably keep the compression tights on for several hours after a game to maximize their benefits.
Just be sure to wash thoroughly afterward.
Gear Maintenance: How to Keep Equipment in Gameday Shape
To ensure your equipment gives you the protection you need for every practice and for every game, it’s crucial that you keep each piece in good shape. This means cleaning regularly, disinfecting when necessary and constantly monitoring for wear and tear.
The inside of your helmet collects a lot of moisture, which is perfect for breeding bacteria that can give off foul odors. Therefore, you’ll want to clean the inside of the helmet regularly.
Coach Ray at Carolina Crusader Football recommends using something gentle such as dish-washing liquid and a couple of rags to clean the helmet. Use the soapy rag to get between the pads, then use a second damp rag to remove the soap. Afterward, leave the helmet to dry away from extreme heat or direct sunlight.
And from time to time, spray the inside of the helmet with a gentle disinfectant.
Your pads require a similar cleaning regiment, Rose Kivi writes at Livestrong. The first step is to leave them to dry out after a game to keep bacteria or mold from growing.
Later, you can give them a light cleaning with a damp rag. Just be sure to polish them afterward with a dry one. Then spray the pads with a gentle disinfectant. And when the season is over, Kivi says, have the pads professionally cleaned and sanitized.
Finally, make sure to take care of your cleats, because they definitely take care of you on the field. Jay Berks, a New York-area preps football player and the video blogger at East Coast Sneaker Head, has a helpful video tutorial for getting your cleats looking just like new:
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