Safety First: Researchers rank youth helmets for concussion protection

Another helmet safety tip: Make sure it fits right

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For years, the focus on football helmets and concussion safety has been at the NFL level, but now, there’s new research on youth football helmets, courtesy of Virginia Tech’s helmet lab.

With the help of $3 million from the National Institutes of Health, the researchers at Virginia Tech tested every youth football helmet on the market.

The goal is to give parents, players, leagues and coaches access to this groundbreaking new data.
Researchers even created a list ranking the helmets from best to worst so school officials and parents can make the best decision to protect kids from potential concussions.

Bob Sefcik, executive director of Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program, said there’s another critical safety factor parents need to double-check: How the helmet fits.

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“If a child has been given a helmet, making sure the chin strap is centered and tight enough too, making sure there are air pads inside that are completely inflated, making sure the kids and the parents understand that helmets are a protective device that needs to fit appropriately, so there shouldn’t be too much head movement in the helmet,” Sefcik said.

Each year, every helmet in Duval County is tested and recertified for safety. Those that don’t make the cut are immediately replaced by the schools. 

“The schools individually purchase the helmets and I am sure they are looking at all of the technology that’s available out there,” Sefcik said.

To see the complete list of helmet rankings, go to vt.edu/helmet. The researchers recommend any of the helmets that earned five-star ratings.

Sefcik said helmets are a big part of the safety solution, but they aren’t the whole answer.

“They should be focused on the student-athletes’ necks, the techniques that they are doing when tackling and making sure they are paying attention to signs and symptoms that may come up when a potential head injury does occur,” Sefcik said.

A big part of recognizing those signs and symptoms is being addressed by a new community partnership and initiative in Duval County Public Schools called Project 17.

Five years ago, DCPS set a major goal to put full-time certified athletic trainers in each of the district’s 17 high schools by 2020. The Project 17 initiative is right on target as they bring the final two schools, Atlantic Coast and Fletcher, into the program, DCPS announced this year.