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Today's football helmets offer superior protection for the head and come in a variety of sizes and with different padding systems. It is important to know the different components when purchasing a football helmet.
Types of Helmets
Youth models are obviously designed to fit a smaller player's head
Additionally, these typically use a different type of plastic, such as ABS, which is plenty durable but less expensive than tougher plastics used in adult helmets
Adult helmets generally use a Lexan Polycarbonate shell, a very resilient material
Helmet manufacturers offer models with an air system liner
This is designed to return the air system to its original state after a collision much more rapidly than foams or straps
Air systems withstand repeated blows better than helmets that use just foam pads
In addition, air systems are generally more comfortable and provide for an easy fit since air can be adjusted to tighten the helmet to your head's specific shape
Helmets come with a series of pads, usually foam, that further cushion the head, jaw and nose
These pads usually come standard with any helmet that you buy
Replacement pads, liner padding systems and liners also are offered
Pads may be designed specifically for your helmet model
Pads include front and back sizes to adjust the helmet's fit
Pads for the top, side and back of the helmet and jaw pads also are part of the padding system
Manufacturers offer these pads in different thickness, ranging from 1/2 to 1 inch, to allow you to select the firmness that you prefer
NOCSAE stands for the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, a voluntary organization that has developed standards for a variety of sports protective equipment
Any helmet that bears the NOCSAE seal shows the manufacturer has met the standards at the time the helmet was manufactured
Chin straps perform two functions
First, they protect the chin area, with a cup that fits snugly underneath and around the chin
Second, the straps snap onto your helmet to hold it firmly on your head. That's why it's crucial to keep it centered and without slack.
Helmets come with standard chinstraps, but you can buy different styles and replacement straps
Helmets come in two basic ways: with and without the mask
There is an array of face masks offered, each designed to protect various parts of the face and to optimize protection for different players while still allowing them the best visibility to play their position
Manufacturers often use letters to designate a facemask's designed protection
OPO--Oral Protection Only
JOP--Jaw and Oral Protection
NOPO--Nose and Oral Protection Only
NJOP--Nose, Jaw and Oral Protection
EGOP--Eye Glass and Oral Protection
In order to protect the carbon steel that is generally used in facemasks, manufacturers may offer different coatings, with a premium paid for more durable coatings
There are many styles of facemasks as well to help you maximize needed protection while still being able to play your position. These differences are usually indicated by an abbreviation:
Refers to the reinforced bar at the top of the facemask
This strengthens the facemask and minimizes the chance of vertical spreading
DW: Double Wire Configuration
This adds stability and strength
It also decreases the opening in the facemask so hands, fingers and feet are less likely to strike your face
This design minimizes the chance of horizontal spreading, important for linemen or for other positions where you either block or tackle and end up in the pile
SW: Single Wire Configuration
This eliminates a bar running in the "east-west" direction
This design will suit you if you play a position where visibility is critical
UB: U-Bar Attached
This often times is called a bull ring
As with a Double Wire design, the U-Bar also is designed to minimize fingers, hands or feet from striking your nose
SK: Skill Position Players
Designed for skill position players since the side bar is angled back for better peripheral vision
It's also slightly longer
Sizes typically run youth, regular and extra-large to correspond to each manufacturer's sizing system
Youth model face masks should fit all sizes of youth helmets
Regular size face masks should fit small, medium and larger shell sizes of adult/varsity helmet models
X-large face masks fit the same size shell as regular size face masks and can also be used on large sizes when a player may need the extra protection
DO NOT USE FACE MASKS/HELMET SYSTEMS TO BUTT, RAM OR SPEAR AN OPPOSING PLAYER. THIS IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FOOTBALL RULES AND CAN RESULT IN SEVERE HEAD, BRAIN, OR NECK INJURY, PARALYSIS OR DEATH TO YOU, AND POSSIBLE INJURY TO YOUR OPPONENT. THERE IS THE RISK THAT THESE INJURIES MAY ALSO OCCUR AS A RESULT OF ACCIDENTAL CONTACT WITHOUT INTENT TO BUTT, RAM OR SPEAR. NO FACE MASK/HELMET SYSTEM CAN PREVENT ALL SUCH INJURIES.
Determining Your Helmet Size
Have someone help measure you with a measuring tape or head caliper at 1" above the eyebrows to determine the size of your head
This then will correspond to the various sizes offered in helmet models
Helmet manufacturers strongly suggest you maintain a moderate to short hairstyle during the season. Severe changes in hair length often require a new fit.
Dampen your hair to approximate sweat conditions; towel off excess water
The front of the helmet should sit 1" above your eyebrow. This is the point at which the head was measured and is the point at which you can encompass the largest percentage of head mass.
When pressing downward with the fingers interlocked on the top of the helmet, the pressure should be on the crown of the head and not on the brow
The chinstrap should be exactly centered and without slack to anchor your helmet properly
Keeping in mind that not all manufacturers size the same, you can use the chart below to determine your general helmet size
Determining Your Helmet Size
6 1/8 - 6 3/4
6 3/8 - 6 5/8
6 1/2 - 7
6 5/8 - 6 7/8
7 - 7 1/2
6 7/8 - 7 1/8
7 1/4 - 7 1/2
7 1/8 - 7 3/8
7 1/2 - 7 3/4
7 3/8 - 7 1/2
Choosing The Right Football Pads
Today's football padding helps protect you nearly from head to toe. Most of the gear is specifically designed to help maximize your performance while still helping to reduce the risk of injury.
Football is a dangerous sport that may result in serious injury or even death. Although equipment is designed to help reduce the risk of such injuries, there is no guarantee that any injury will be prevented by the use of equipment.
Shoulder pads are designed to help you accomplish your job based on your position
Manufacturers do a good job of identifying which pad works best for what positions
Pads also come in youth and adult sizes so please review the sizing instructions and chart below to help in your selection
Look for lightweight pads that won't ride up high to limit your head movement or field of vision
If your team uses the option and you are part of the running game, you should consider a shoulder pad made for running backs or defensive backs. These pads offer more protection for quarterbacks that are part of the team's running offense.
If you play defensive back, tailback, wide receiver or option quarterback, you want a pad that's lightweight and won't slow you down, while still absorbing the hits that you will take
These pads also are designed to provide flexibility and unrestricted movement
Bigger skill positions
Fullbacks, linebackers and tight-ends should consider pads that use a plated front rather than laces
Plated fronts do not require as much adjustment after each hit
Some pads also come with vinyl buckles instead of elasticized straps to more securely fasten the pad under the arm
If you play in the trenches, you need a streamlined pad that uses fewer flaps and epaulets (the flaps that extend over the shoulder area) to prevent other players from grabbing and pulling on your pads
Linemen pads often use vinyl buckles to keep them more securely fastened
As for elastic straps vs. vinyl buckles, consider that elastic needs to be adjusted and replaced after heavy usage. However, elastic may be preferred since it expands and contracts more easily than vinyl buckles when you breathe.
Most punters and place kickers use quarterback pads since these are lighter and offer better movement
Determining the Proper Size Shoulder Pads
To determine the size pad that best suits you, stand up straight with your arms at your side
Measure across your back from where you feel the shoulder bone on one side to where the bone extends on the opposite side
Round up to the next half-inch and refer to the chart below
For youth pads you will also need to factor in chest size and weight
Determining The Proper Youth Shoulder Pad Size
11" - 12"
24 - 26
40 - 60
12" - 13"
26 - 28
50 - 70
13" - 14"
28 - 30
60 - 80
14" - 15"
30 - 32
70 - 100
15" - 16"
32 - 34
90 - 120
16" - 17"
34 - 36
110 - 140
Determining The Proper Adult Shoulder Pad Size
17" - 18"
18" - 19"
19" - 20"
20" - 21"
21" - 22"
22" - 23"
Other Football Pads
You can further protect yourself with a variety of padding, some designed more for specific positions and some to help injured players to protect sensitive areas.
Collar Pads/Neck Rolls
These attach to the back of shoulder pads to further protect the collarbone
Most manufacturers make specific models to fit their pads and offer both youth and adult sizes
You can also purchase a back plate for added protection to the back area and a sternum plate to further protect this area
Several styles of rib protection are offered, a good option for players with sore ribs or who take constant pounding from tackles
Many shoulder pad manufacturers sell a rib protector that extends from the bottom of their pads. For these you buy the size that corresponds to your shoulder pad size as specified by the manufacturer.
Also available are vests that use hook-and-loop closures to secure the vest, which has padding built-in to the vest to protect your ribs
Vests are fitted by chest size, according to each maker's specifications
Some models come with suspenders that then have rib protection padding at the bottom
Rib pads can be attached to shoulder pads or worn separately with suspenders, the latter typically for light practices when pads aren't worn but you still want to protect sensitive ribs
A variety of pads are offered to protect the hands and arms of players, usually offensive and defensive linemen who use their arms to block and tackle
These pads can provide crucial protection from your fingertips to just past your elbows
Different positions require different types of gloves
Lineman should look for gloves that are heavily padded on the top of the hand and wrist
Receivers and running backs, as well as defensive backs, should purchase flexible, soft gloves that have some tackiness (stickiness) to them
Hip and Tailbone Pads
Hip pads are a must for nearly every player, but certainly those who take punishment from tackles such as running backs, receivers and quarterbacks
Tailbone pads help protect the sensitive tailbone area of running backs and receivers, who often get hit here
Since these often extend outside the pant, you can buy them in colors to closely match your team's uniform colors
Hip and tail pads are usually sold as three-piece sets
Football pants do not have pockets for hip and tail pads, so you will have to purchase a " girdle" as well
Thigh pads give better protection to players who are often tackled
These slide into pockets in the football pants
Thigh pads can be made of either foam, which is lightweight and molds to the body well, or vinyl dipped, which is thick and offers better protection
All players benefit from kneepads, generally foam-encased, soft pads that slide into the pockets on most football pants
Knee pads can be made of either foam, which is lightweight and molds to the body well, or vinyl dipped, which is thick and offers better protection
Many manufacturers offer protection systems, complete with hip, tail, thigh, and kneepads. These sets generally will save you money vs. buying the pads individually.
7-piece sets generally include two hip pads, one tail pad, two thigh pads, and two knee pads
3-piece sets generally include two hip pads and one tail pad combination
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