There are times I do believe the use of helmets has a direct correlation with frequency of head injuries, just going by the way players tackle in American football. Everyone is taught to tackle with the helmet, using it as a weapon to the detriment of the tackler, thus increasing the chances of head injuries. But to answer a simple question, “to helmet or not to helmet?’ I say “YES” to helmet. Even though there is no surety that your child is going to be labeled “safe player”, a helmet most definitely will help minimize the intensity of a concussion in the event one does occur.
WITHOUT THEM HELMETS, I DON’T THINK AMERICAN FOOTBALL COULD EVEN EXIST!
Just as smoking is hazardous to health and every cigarette packaging comes with a disclaimer, back in 2013, Schutt Sports with an attempt to remind people of the inherent risks of the game, had plastered the following words on their helmets: “No helmet system will protect you from serious brain or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football”
Whoa. Did someone just soil their pants?
Well. Not quite!
As of today, football is considered the number one sport in USA with an average of 1,088,158 high school players. It is for the sake of these players that the football helmet is probably the only device to have been under the scanner and scrutiny of researchers and scientists more than any other device. In order to endure the hard hits on the field, this piece of protective device plays a critical role in providing the necessary cushioning that helps minimize impact and head injuries.
For a lot of athletes, families and coaches, sports carries a lot of sentimental value, sacrifices are made at so many fronts to ensure maximum participation and the sport in turn offers a lot of value to them.
All said and done, safety is and should always be the number one priority.
Recent research into football related head injuries has led to massive use of innovative technology for making advanced helmets. From changing padding size to using different materials to incorporating sensors, there are some extraordinary changes as to what helmets look like now as against a decade ago.
Whether you are playing at a professional level or collegiate, it is important to invest in the right helmet. Consider the following:
1) Fitting: There is no ONE SIZE FITS ALL.
A football helmet should feel snug and supportive throughout, with no spaces between the pads and the athlete’s head. The helmet should never slide on the head and the chin strap should be well secured in place. If the helmet can be removed while the chin strap is in place, then the fit is too loose. Some helmets have a unique system, the use of an air bladder system which requires inflation with a special needle to avoid a puncture. Other things to look at when checking for fitting include,
The helmet should not sit too high or too low to disrupt the athlete’s visual field in the front or sideways. Athletes need to havea clear view of the field from all angles at all times. Make sure athlete’s that use a facemask also ensure a clear vision.
3. Chin strap
The chin strap should be centered under the athlete’s chin, and fit snugly. Once the chin strap is fastened, the helmet should not easily move in any direction, back-to-front or side-to side. For helmets with a four point chin strap system, all four straps must be snapped and tightly secured.
4. Padding and Stability
Ever heard of the guardian caps? These are Velcro caps that are worn on the outside of a football helmet to provide that extra cushioning to minimize the risk of concussions. Although, no research has proven it, the manufacturer suggests it minimizes the impact force by 25-33 %. While any attempt to minimize impact is great, the question here is, is that enough to prevent a concussion? Unfortunately, no.
The padding on the inside of the helmet is crucial as it decides how stable your head will be in case of a strong acceleration force be it linear or rotational. Remember, the brain only has to move about a quarter of an inch to reproduce short term as well as long term symptoms.
It is therefore important that the padding allows for minimal to no movement of the head inside the helmet. Padding is usually made of foam and sits inside a polycarbonate shell that makes up the outer cover of the helmet. Some helmets come with enclosed air liners to ensure a more comfortable feel.
Some helmets like Redel come with additional padding on the side to minimize side impact.
Then there is soft padding and hard padding. Pick what fits right and will help you get through the game without causing discomfort.
5. Lastly, let’s talk about TPU ie Thermoplastic Urethane.
One of the leading helmet padding technologies, Thermoplastic Urethane or TPU, was first developed by Schutt for use in the U.S. Air Force, and has since found its way onto the football field in some of the most popular and safest helmets. Some specific properties of these helmets is the Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and virtually indestructible. They claim that the TPU holds up better than all standard padding and doesn’t compress like foam. This keeps it performing at peak levels, even after seasons and seasons of impacts.
- Cost: The reason why some kids are safer in their games than others is due to their investment in some real costly helmets. The costlier the helmet, the better are its features and protective characteristics. But not all schools, sports organizations and athletes can always afford the high end stuff. On an average, schools invest in helmets costing anywhere from $150 to $300. However, the safest helmet out there will cost you 6 times the price of a regular / top rated helmet amounting to $1500. Cost is definitely a concern. The other costs include recertification of the helmet, investing in shoulder pads and other equipment. Safety is key but hey let’s not get too carried away here.
- Certification: All football helmets must pass NOCSCE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) standards regardless of whether the individual or team purchased it. For more information , visit : https://nocsae.org/
- Sensors: This may seem like a thing of the future but you may want to get acquainted with this new technology now, as it is about to make a significant difference in minimizing severity of concussion through early detection. Sensors are basically tools attached to the helmet that will measure the impact of the acceleration on the athletes head and send this information to a coach or a trainer via a transmitter, who will then pull the athlete out of the game and evaluate his/her condition. Some professional teams do use helmets with sensors, the common ones being InSite Impact Response System, Speed flex Varsity to name a few.
In an attempt to introduce sensors to helmets, the shock box sensor system was devised in 2012. This system allowed for signals about impact to be sent to parents, athletes, coaches via bluetooth. However there was a downside. The attachment of the sensor to the helmet was done using an adhesive tape, having high chances of disconnect. Years down the line, we now have new and improved versions, which are also a lot more expensive.