Fitting Football Equipment on a Child for Safe Play

When playing football, kids must be outfitted for safety. In addition to organizing practices and teaching skills, good football coaches need to know how to properly fit equipment, such as helmets and shoulder pads, on young players.

When it comes to helmets, proper fit is the key to providing valuable protection and comfort. A helmet that doesn't fit a child's head properly can put the child at risk and contribute to injuries rather than protection.

Instruct players on the dangers of using the helmet incorrectly and to treat it as a valuable piece of safety gear. Here are some areas to pay attention to when fitting helmets on your players:

  • Head size: Measure each player's head with helmet tape (available at most sporting goods stores if it isn't provided by your league's recreation department) to determine proper shell size. Wrap the tape about 1 inch above the child's eyebrows.

  • Head shape: Before fitting, pay close attention to the shape of each youngster's head, because any irregularities of the head may require a fitting adjustment. Two players with the same-sized heads may have two differently shaped heads.

  • Jaw pads: Some youngsters have narrow faces, so make sure the helmet's jaw pads follow the contours of the cheek. These pads prevent the helmet from moving side to side.

  • Skull: Make sure the helmet covers the base of the child's skull and that the back rim of the helmet doesn't cut into the back of the athlete's neck.

  • Faceguard: This should be about 2 to 2½ finger-widths from the tip of the child's nose. If it's closer than that, the child is at risk of suffering an injury to his nose when making a tackle or taking a hit, and if it's farther away, that creates additional space for another player's hand or fingers to hurt the child's face.

  • Chinstrap: Tighten the chinstrap so that the cup that rests on the child's chin fits snugly and is centered on the chin. Never allow a youngster to play football if his chinstrap is unsnapped or doesn't fit securely, because the helmet will likely get knocked off during contact.

  • Ear openings: Make sure the holes located on each side of the helmet are centered over the child's ears.

  • Eyes: Make sure that the child's eyebrows are 1 to 1½ inches below the helmet's edge.

  • Vision: The youngster should be able to see about 180 degrees peripherally, and up and down about 75 degrees.

Here are some tests you can use to check whether a helmet fits properly:

  • Rotate the helmet. Try rotating the helmet from side to side on the youngster's head. The skin on his forehead and his hair should move with the helmet, but the helmet shouldn't slip.

  • Slide the helmet back and forth. You can check the jaw pads by holding the face mask and moving the helmet forward and backward to see whether the helmet slides high on the forehead or down over the eyes. If this occurs, the helmet's too big.

  • Press on the top of the helmet. Apply a little bit of pressure to the top of the helmet to check for any movement. If the helmet shifts around a lot, the helmet's too big; if it tends to pop up after you press down, then it's probably too small.

The helmet should always move as the head moves and should not move independently of the head. Before fitting kids for helmets, have them wet their hair down, which helps ensure a proper fit. Also, prior to the fitting, let the parents know that you'd like the child's hair cut at the length it's going to be at during the season.

The shoulder pads are another essential piece of equipment. Follow these steps for fitting shoulder pads on youngsters:

  1. Measure the distance from shoulder to shoulder and use that number to select the proper size from the manufacturer's chart.

  2. Check to see that the laces on the shoulder pads in the middle of the player's chest are tied tightly.

  3. Make sure all the slack is taken out of the straps underneath the shoulder pads and they're secure.

    Loose straps can chafe a youngster.

  4. Check that there are a couple inches between the padding and the neck.

  5. Make sure the shoulder pads go down in front to the player's nipples and out to just beyond the shoulder.

  6. Check that the youngster has good range of motion.

    When the player shifts around, there should be minimal movement of the pads. He should have no problems raising and lowering his arms without the pads riding up into the neck opening.

  7. To complete the fitting, do a dress rehearsal.

    Have the youngster put on his helmet and jersey and go through some basic movements so you can verify that you haven't overlooked anything with the pads.

Before handing any piece of equipment over to a youngster, be sure to check it over for any defects or signs of wear that could hamper its effectiveness in protecting youngsters.

When inspecting a helmet, make sure it bears a current National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment certification sticker.

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