It's hard to overstate football's popularity in the U.S., but football is an inherently violent contact sport. The name of the game is to hit somebody, and as a result, injuries in football are very common and often serious enough to require a trip to the ER.
That's why watching your kids play football can be nerve-wracking. Fortunately, many football injuries can be prevented by wearing the right equipment, playing within the rules and using proper technique.
Learn how to keep things as safe as possible on the football field by following these tips.
Kids need a lot of protective gear to play football. Remind kids that if they show up for practice or a game without a necessary piece of equipment, they should tell their coach.
At a minimum, kids should never take the field without the following gear:
- Helmet. These should meet the safety standards developed by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).
- Pants with leg pads. Regardless of which style you choose, football pants should have pads for the hips, thighs, knees and tailbone.
- Shoulder pads. Football shoulder pads should have a hard plastic shell with thick padding.
- Shoes. Check with the coach and consult your league's guidelines regarding which types of shoes and cleats (non-detachable or detachable) kids can use.
- Mouthguard. All football leagues will require the use of a mouthguard. Be sure to get one with a keeper strap that attaches it securely to the helmet's facemask.
- Athletic supporter with cup. Worn properly, this essential piece of equipment helps male athletes avoid testicular injuries.
- Additional gear. Other items that you might want to consider using for protection include: padded neck rolls, forearm pads, padded or non-padded gloves and "flak jackets" that protect the ribcage and abdomen.
Some things kids can do before every game and practice to help avoid injuries include:
- Getting in shape before the season starts. Ideally, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise year-round, but at least doing so during the summer to prepare for the football season.
- Warming up and then stretching.
- Drinking plenty of water before, during and after games and practices.
- Working with the coach and teammates to learn proper techniques.
During Games and Practices
Once the practice or game starts, kids should:
- Know and obey the rules of football. Things like clipping, facemask grabbing, blocking below the knees and helmet-to-helmet contact are illegal because they are dangerous to everyone.
- Keep the head up while tackling and never lead with the top of the helmet. Known as "spearing," this is illegal and greatly increases the chances of a traumatic head or neck injury.
- Take themselves out of the game if they experience any pain or discomfort to decrease the severity of an injury.
- Stop at the whistle. It's not uncommon for a player to get hurt when one player keeps going after everyone else relaxes at the whistle.
A FEW OTHER REMINDERS
- Kids should have a pre-season sports physical exam (different from a regular physical exam) before every season to be sure they are ready to play.
- Make sure first aid is available at the fields where your kids play and practice, as well as someone who knows how to administer it.
Lastly, don't forget to have fun out there. With the right gear and a little common sense, you can help your kids stay injury-free and on the field.