Vol.2, No.3

Gear checklist for youth football players

There is no youth team sport in America with as much potential risk for injury as football.

A young man in football helmet
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker
Gear Checklist for Youth Football

There is no youth team sport in America with as much potential risk for injury as football. By its fundamental nature of running, blocking and tackling, football puts the human body in compromised positions that can make it particularly susceptible to injury. Hence, proper equipment is essential.

From head to toe, the body can be severely impacted by the game of football. Some of the most vulnerable parts of the body include the head and neck area, which often bears the brunt of hits, and the knee joints and lower extremities where running and pivoting place a burden on ligaments and tendons.

So let's start at the top.

Head -- Perhaps the most important piece of equipment in the game of football is the helmet. Helmets have come a long way since the day of the leather flight caps that gridiron pioneers of the 1920's and '30s wore. Today, modern materials such as molded plastic and polyurethane have created helmets that, when worn and used properly, greatly diminish the danger of head and brain injuries due to impact. The key to a good helmet is fit. A helmet should fit snuggly over the ears, with virtually no wiggle room. A qualified athletic trainer/coach can help fit a player properly and helmet manufacturers also provide size guidelines to help players pick a helmet with the right fit. As an added plus, many helmets today come equipped with removable or inflatable padded linings that can be adjusted to size. Additional accessories such as face shields, which help protect the eyes, and mouth guards, which protect the teeth and mouth, add further assurance against injury to the head and face area. At minimum, a mouth guard, properly molded to the player's bite, should be worn at all times.

Shoulders/neck -- Secondary only to the helmet in importance. Shoulder pads help absorb the sudden impact of tackling and blocking, thus protecting the most common points of contact: the shoulders, chest and upper arms (deltoid area). As with the helmet, the most important quality of shoulder pads is fit, especially for youth. Again, qualified athletic trainers can help with proper fit. Shoulder pads also can be accessorized with additional apparatus that can further stabilize the neck and cushion against blows to the head. Examples of these include neck rolls and neck roll systems commonly referred to as "cowboy collars." This apparatus is either attached to the top of the shoulder pads or worn as a vest under the shoulder pads, with a molded collar that extends above the height of the shoulder pads. When worn properly, a neck roll or cowboy collar helps absorb shock and diminishes forced lateral movement or twisting of the neck and head, preventing injuries commonly known as "burners" or "stingers."

Torso -- Of all the body, perhaps the area most exposed in football is the torso: meaning the rib cage, abdomen and lower back area. Still, in modern times, new developments in protective gear has created protective gear such as back plates, which, like cowboy collars can be attached to the lower shoulder pads to help protect the lower back from forced contact. In addition, flac jackets, which envelope the entire lower torso much like a wide belt or girdle also can be worn for protection of the rib cage. The disadvantage, if any, to wearing these accessories however is that they may make a player feel constrained or limited in movement.

Below the belt - A protective cup is essential, but beyond that a full set of padding should include pads for each hip, tail bone, thighs and knees. These are pads usually made of vinyl-protected foam and fit inside regulation football pants.

Feet -- Last but not least, every football player should wear a proper fitting set of cleated football shoes. Football cleats come in varying colors and styles. But what matters most is that they fit right, provide stable footing on the field of play and properly support the ankles. High-top and low-cut shoe styles are available, with one recommended over the other depending on the position one plays. As always, when in doubt, ask a coach or qualified athletic trainer for guidance.

Finally, it is important to note that no amount of protective equipment can guarantee absolute safety. Other measures such as warm up exercises and stretching before taking the field of play, along with the use of proper technique in tackling and blocking are fundamentals that should never be overlooked and which can help greatly diminish the risk of injury. Now, set, hut, go.

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