Study: Most Youth Football Helmets Don't Fit

New research found that the majority (74%) of football players’ helmets in youth football (7-12 years old) did not meet at least one component of the 13 criteria developed for proper football helmet fit. Improper fit is a critical risk factor for increased concussion symptoms and duration. Prevalence and Causative Factors of Improperly Fitted Helmets in Youth Football Leagues is being presented today as part of the 2020 NATA Virtual Clinical Symposia & AT Expo educational programming, which transitioned to a virtual event in light of COVID-19. The study abstract will be published in the Journal of Athletic Training, the scientific journal of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, later this year.

The study consisted of 273 players across 24 teams in four recreation youth tackle football leagues. The research found that most common factors for improper fit were: lack of snugness on all sides (26%); crown of the helmet was not 1‑2 fingers above eyebrows (26%); the facemask slipped up and down (36%) and the chinstrap did not equally fit on both side of the face (46%).

“As youth football players cautiously return to sport during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that all safety factors, such as proper helmet fit, are taken into account to reduce the risk for critical head injury in this vulnerable population,” said Susan Yeargin, Ph.D., ATC, associate professor of Athletic Training at the University of South Carolina. “Players depend on their league to provide and fit helmets correctly, however, few leagues require coach education on helmet fitting or provide appropriate medical personnel to do the fitting properly, putting young athletes at risk for concussions with more severe and longer lasting symptoms.”

The data was collected before full contact started and all variables were collected in a station format so players could be examined on an individual basis without interrupting practice time. There was no difference between brands or sizes for fit.

Additional youth-focused research presented at 2020 NATA Virtual Clinical Symposia & AT Expo

Movement Control Differs with Age in Children - Zuk EF, Nguyen A, Root HJ, Beltz EM, DiStefano LJ

  • Movement control, as measured by the Landing Error Scoring System (LESS), demonstrated fewer movement errors in older age groups of children when compared with their younger counterparts. Children that do not improve movement control during adolescence may be at future risk of injury.
  • There was a significant difference in LESS scores between age groups and sexes. Regardless of sex, each age group was significantly different from each other: elementary school (6-10 years old) was 6.6, middle school (11-13 years old) was 5.7 and high school (14-18 years old) was 4.6.
  • Females demonstrated greater movement errors (5.8) than males (5.5), which may increase their risk of injury.
  • This was a multi-site, cross-sectional study of 1,498 youth from 6-18 years old. Differences in movement control were evaluated using the LESS. Lower scores on the LESS indicated better movement control and a reduced risk of ACL injury.
  • The incidence of lower extremity injuries, including ACL sprains, commonly peak during adolescence. Previous studies have focused on movement-based risk factors for injury increase across development in an athletic population; however, these studies are often not generalizable to all youth populations. These results provide the largest comprehensive normative database of LESS values in youth and adolescents.
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