DETROIT – Football helmets can help protect players from serious brain or head injuries, but it is very important that athletes be properly fitted for their helmet.
Jeff Burnside, head football coach at Novi High School, is trained to properly fit his athletes for their helmets. He is one of two coaches who must inspect a fit before a player can hit the field.
Novi uses the Revolution Speed, and Revolution helmets from Riddell, the Quantum Plus and Quantum helmets from Rawlings and the Vengeance from Schutt.
All are helmets that received a 5-star or 4-star rating on the Virginia Tech helmet ratings. According to Virginia Tech, helmets with more stars provide a reduction in concussion risk compared to helmets with less stars.
Burnside says it's important to have variety in helmets.
"Not everyone's head is the same, so you've got to have some different styles to make sure everybody is comfortable and fitted properly," he said.
Burnside took Local 4 step by step through the process of fitting a football player with a helmet.
"Take a measuring tape and you measure around the crown of the head. You want to make sure the back is covered up so that the base of the skull is covered," says Burnside.
He said you also want to make sure the brow line of the helmet is about an inch above the brow.
A football helmet should feel snug with no spaces between the pads and the athlete's head.
To help get that snug fit, Burnside showed us how he adds or takes away from the air bladder inside the helmet. He said it is important to communicate with a player during this process to make sure the helmet feels good and is tightly fit with no open spots.
Burnside then checks the ears to make sure a player can hear and there is no folding over and it's not too tight. He also said the jaw pads should fit snugly.
"We don't want to see any air between there. If we see air between there, we got to get a different helmet," Burnside said.
The buckles need to be snug when done up too.
Burnside said once they feel they have a good fit they try to move the athlete's head.
"So when we're moving this around we want to make sure his head is moving, what we don't want is to be slipping or I can pull it back and his head is stiff and all of a sudden that helmet slides way back there," says Burnside.
Hairstyle is also important, a player should be fitted with the hairstyle they will wear during the season at practices and games because a change in style can affect the fit.
Burnside also tries to teach his players that the fit is more important than the brand of helmet.
He also reminds everyone that good coaching is key.
"I can fit him properly, I can put him in a 5-star helmet, but if I don't do my job as a coach, and our coaching staff doesn't do our job of teaching him how to tackle, how to make sure his eyes are up at all times, it doesn't matter," said Burnside.
When choosing a football helmet, parents should also look to make sure it is a NOCSAE-certified helmet. That means the helmet has been tested for safety and meets safety standards. NOCSAE is the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.
Also look for the date of manufacture. Helmets 10 years or older should not be on the playing field.
Bob Fawley, owner of Capitol Varsity Sports, Inc., sells helmets and reconditions helmets to meet NOCSAE standards. He said parents should look for a NOCSAE label on the outside of the helmet. He said it can be an imprinted design or a sticker. He said helmets should also have an exterior warning label along with the size of the helmet. Then on the inside of the helmet should be a NOCSAE sticker saying when the helmet was last reconditioned. It should also include the name of the reconditioning company.
The Centers for Disease Control and USA Football teamed up to create a resource on concussions, to check it out click here.
The CDC also has this resource for concussions in sports.