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Helmet safety: 7 tips for parents and coaches this football season

(BPT) – As coaches and athletes gear up for games underneath the Friday night lights, training camps are in full swing, complete with tackling techniques, agility drills and conditioning. Now is the time to get your head in the game when it comes to your athlete’s helmet.

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) wants to be sure athletes know their helmet, maintain their helmet and take action on and off the field to prioritize safe play.

To help prepare your young athlete for the approaching season, here are seven things to know about football helmets.

Know your helmet

1. There are no concussion-proof helmets.

The most important fact that every parent and coach should know is no football helmet completely prevents all head injuries, including concussions. Advertising or other media claims that a particular helmet is anti-concussion or concussion-proof are not supported by research and can be misleading and dangerous.

It’s also important for parents and coaches to avoid relying on any single data point, rating or measurement when considering helmet options. Doing so could lead to inaccurate conclusions that one helmet brand or model guarantees a measurably higher level of concussion protection than another. Another risk is a potential false sense of security that athletes are more protected with a certain helmet, and therefore safe play and return to play practices aren’t as important.

2. Proper fit is very important.

Ensuring your child’s football helmet has the proper fit is an essential component of reducing the risk of concussion and other injuries. Ask your child how the helmet feels — helmets should not be too tight or too loose. If there is considerable room for your child’s head to move, there is a greater risk of injury.

A new helmet should come with fitting instructions. Read and understand the instructions and warning labels on the helmet. If hang tags and literature were not provided with the new football helmet, contact the manufacturer. Most helmet manufacturers also post fitting guides online.

Additionally, you can find fitting and wearing instructions through the CDC Foundation.

3. Look for the logo on the back of the helmet that reads, “Meets NOCSAE Standard.”

The presence of the NOCSAE logo means that the manufacturer has certified that the helmet model passed the most rigorous science-based performance standards in the world. NOCSAE, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, is an independent and nonprofit standard development body with the primary mission to enhance athletic safety through research and standards for athletic equipment. NOCSAE offers information on football helmets on their website.

4. Do not alter, change or remove padding or other components of the helmet.

The original padding, fit system and orientation of components in a new helmet are part of the helmet system that was tested for compliance with the NOCSAE standards. Altering these components, for any reason, may result in a helmet that does not perform as designed, and could increase the risk of injury.

5. Add-on products may void safety certification.

Parents should be aware that add-on accessories can alter how the helmet was intended to function and potentially interfere with the helmet’s performance. If the add-on product has not been tested with a specific helmet model as part of the certification testing, a manufacturer has the right, under the NOCSAE standards, to declare its certification void if its product is altered in any way, including the addition of add-on or aftermarket products.

Maintain your helmet

6. Recondition and recertify helmets older than two years old.

Any helmet older than two years should be reconditioned and recertified to the NOCSAE standard. Helmets that have been recertified will have a recertification statement and label inside the helmet indicating the name of the recertifying company and the date of recertification. If you have doubts, ask your child’s coach or school administrator about their policy for reconditioning and recertification.

If the helmet is older than 10 years, it can no longer be reconditioned or recertified, and a newer helmet should be used.

Prioritize safe play

7. Preventing concussions and other head injuries involves much more than the helmet.

While football helmets play a critical role in protecting athletes in the field of play, they are just one part of helping to protect against head injuries. Prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of decisions about when athletes should return to play are equally important, if not more so.

According to the CDC Foundation’s Heads Up to Parents program, ensuring young athletes are taught proper blocking and tackling techniques and demanding enforcement of rules that prohibit players from leading with their helmets to hit other players are important ways to reduce the risk of concussion and other injuries.

Educate your child about the signs and symptoms of concussions — which can include headache, nausea, confusion, dizziness and memory difficulties — and encourage them to report any and all symptoms. If a concussion has been diagnosed, your child should not return to play until cleared by medically trained experts following return-to-play guidelines. Remember — if in doubt, sit it out.

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