I just finished my first year as the head coach of a middle school program in South Florida. After all the equipment was turned in I had a chance to take a detailed inventory of our football helmets. We have a great athletic department and all football helmets have been reconditioned on a yearly basis. Earlier this year the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioner’s Association (NAERA) announced that their members will no longer recondition football helmets after they are 10 years old. One of the reasons I wanted a detailed inventory of our helmets was so I could help our athletic director better predict future helmet purchases. My research into the topic of football helmets provided some interesting lessons and got me thinking about helmet issues for youth football programs.
Our program has 90 football helmets, the majority of which are the Schutt Youth Air Advantage. We also have a handful of the Schutt DNA helmets and a couple of Riddell VSR4 helmets. Knowing we would needed to develop a plan to replace helmets I did some research to try to determine which helmets were best. I remembered hearing that Virginia Tech and Wake Forest did some testing on football helmets so I located the information here. The only helmets tested were adult helmets but many of these adult helmets have a corresponding youth model using the same shell & pads. After reviewing the information my recommendation is going to be phase out our VSR4 (rated marginal) and Schutt Youth Air Advantage (adequate) with the Schutt DNA Pro Plus youth helmet (rated very good). The Schutt DNA Pro Plus helmet seems to be a great value when compared to other helmets that also earn a very good rating.
Unfortunately, there was one helmet that received a “not recommended rating” which was the Adams A2000 Pro Elite helmet.
I used to coach for a youth league in Minnesota that required players to provide their own helmets. At the first few practices I would always make it a point to double check the fit of each players helmet as many were hand-me-downs from older siblings, helmets purchased at garage sales or a helmet purchased on Craigslist. Many parents aren’t well educated on the subject of football helmets and wouldn’t know that one brand of helmet might lower the risk of concussion compared to another. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s not inconceivable to think that some of the helmets being used by youth are 12-15 years old and probably have never been reconditioned. There are currently no guidelines as to how often a helmet needs to be reconditioned but many if not most football programs send their helmets in for reconditioning at least every two years.
If you are a parent who is buying a football helmet for their child, I would recommend buying a good quality helmet from someone who can give you solid advice and can help make sure you are buying a helmet that fits.
If you are a coach in a program where players supply their own helmets I recommend inspecting each helmet to insure proper fit and to make sure the helmet is in good condition.
If you are a coach for a program that supplies helmets to the players, you may want to research which helmets provide the best protection against concussions. You’ll also want to make sure your program has some kind of schedule to recondition helmets.
Finally, if your player uses a helmet with an air bladder please make sure that the helmet is periodically inspected to make sure the air bladder still holds air and is properly inflated. I read a real heartbreaking story about a player who suffered a significant head injury because he was using a helmet that didn’t have any air in the air bladder when he received a blow to the helmet.