October 13, 2022
High school football season is well underway and millions of young athletes in leagues across the country have hit the gridiron for another exciting season.
After two years addressing COVID-19, our teams at USA Football and the National Operating Committee for Standards on Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) shared the enthusiasm of many coaches, parents and players returning to more regular sports activities this year, while also continuing to take necessary precautions.
As athletes and fans returned to stadiums in the greatest numbers in years, other sports are emulating youth football’s 21st century standards, leading to greater physical, social and emotional health for our children. Today’s youth football families have high expectations for their children’s programs – and they should.
With football season in full swing, parents should feel confident that their young athletes are being properly equipped and educated by coaches who have completed USA Football’s nationally accredited certification. From fundamentals of blocking and tackling with forward-thinking levels of contact, concussion awareness, heat and hydration training, transformational coaching, equipment fitting and more – today’s coaches, through USA Football and its Football Development Model, are better prepared than ever to develop and teach children under their care.
As a member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, USA Football designs and delivers premier, holistic coach training for the good of our children who love to play America’s favorite sport. Like NOCSAE, USA Football partners with leaders in medicine, child advocacy and athletics to support positive football experiences for youth, high school and other amateur players. USA Football is among the few national governing bodies of sport to offer a coach certification accredited by the U.S. Center for Coaching Excellence.
Educated coaches know the NOCSAE seal on their team’s equipment means the gear has been certified to the most demanding standards. Football helmets and faceguards bearing NOCSAE’s seal are required by all major governing bodies involved in the sport – from the NFL to the NCAA, NFHS and USA Football – because these standards are based on the latest innovations in science and medicine.
NOCSAE developed its first football helmet standard more than 50 years ago – and this standard continues to evolve as NOCSAE-funded research expands understanding of the causes and nature of sports injuries. Most recently the standard was revised to reduce head rotation which can cause a concussion. NOCSAE’s current football helmet standard applies to helmets of all sizes and is utilized by players at all levels.
New research funded by NOCSAE is also helping to advance the first youth football helmet standard which will specifically address risks unique to younger players. Until very recently, there was not enough evidence-based research to support a separate youth football helmet standard.
With the rise in popularity of non-tackle football, such as flag football and seven-on-seven, NOCSAE is also evaluating appropriate performance criteria for a standard to address the risks of head and face injuries in non-tackle football. While contact in non-tackle football is much less frequent, players are still susceptible to injuries from unintentional contact with other players and the ground.
Even with these scientific enhancements and improved protective performance, it is important to understand no helmet can prevent all head injuries, including concussions. Concussions are caused by a variety of factors, and external safeguards cannot fully prevent the movement of the brain inside the head. When it comes to choosing a helmet, NOCSAE strongly recommends that coaches, parents and players prioritize selecting a helmet that fits properly and has the NOCSAE seal.
As parents continue to cheer on and support their athletes this season, they should feel confident that the sports industry is taking comprehensive steps to help protect young players through enhanced training, equipment and rules. At the same time, it is imperative that all involved in our young athletes’ lives help them recognize the importance of safe play. Every parent should ask their child’s coach questions like those below, no matter their level of play:
1. What coaching education/certification do you have?
2. Are you trained to properly fit equipment (helmets, pads, etc.)?
3. Do our team’s helmets meet NOCSAE standards and does our league recertify helmets each year?
4. What steps are you taking to help prevent concussions?
5. What can we, as parents, do at home to reinforce what you are teaching in practice?
We will continue to work together to keep football fun and rewarding at youth and high school levels, while – most importantly – doing all we can to protect our young athletes. If you would like more information on coach certification, visit www.usafootball.com, and if you need guidance on re-certifying your athlete’s helmet, check out www.nocsae.org.
Scott Hallenbeck is the chief executive officer of USA Football and Mike Oliver is the executive director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.