Football is a great way to be part of a team and stay physically active. But football is a contact sport, so injuries do happen. Doctors and scientists are studying how repeatedly hitting the head during tackling affects the brain. These injuries can cause serious brain problems later in life. Recent changes in training techniques and rules may help lower the risk of brain injury.

Players and their families need to decide whether the risks of football outweigh the benefits. If you decide to play football, follow these tips to help prevent injuries.

Safe Football Gear

Football gear that can lower the risk of injury includes:

  • Helmet. All football helmets should have a hard plastic outer shell and a thick layer of padding. Helmets should meet the safety standards developed by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE). The coach or a trained professional at a sporting goods store can make sure you get a helmet that meets these standards and fits well.

    Helmets also should have a rigid facemask made from coated carbon steel. The facemask needs to be secured to the helmet. There are different face masks for different positions and purposes. Ask the coach which is best for you.

    Finally, all helmets should have a chin strap with a protective chin cup. The chin strap needs to be fastened and snug whenever you play.
  • Pants with leg pads. Players should wear pads on their hips, thighs, knees, and tailbone. Some football pants include pads that snap into place or fit into pockets within the pants. Other pants are shells that are pulled over the pads.
  • Shoulder pads. Football shoulder pads should have a hard plastic shell with thick padding.
  • Shoes. Different leagues have different rules about the type of shoes and cleats (non-detachable or detachable) players can use. Check with your coach and consult your league's guidelines about which types of shoes are allowed.
  • Mouthguard. All football leagues require players to use a mouthguard. Get one with a keeper strap that attaches it securely to the facemask.
  • Athletic supporter with cup. A cup helps male athletes avoid testicular injuries.

Additional gear. Other items that you might want to consider include:

  • padded neck rolls
  • forearm pads
  • padded or non-padded gloves
  • "flak jackets" that protect the ribcage and abdomen

If you need to wear glasses on the field, be sure they're made of shatterproof glass or plastic.

Safe Football Training

Your coach should emphasize safe, fair play at practices and games. The coach (and athletic trainer, if possible) should be at all practices and games and:

  • Limit the amount of contact during practices.
  • Insist that players follow the current safety rules on tackling.
  • Not allow helmet-to-helmet or helmet-to-body contact.
  • Insist all players use the right protective gear, particularly a helmet that fits well and is in good condition.

To prevent injuries during practice, players should:

  • Get a sports physical before starting any new sport.
  • Always warm up and stretch before playing.
  • Learn and use proper techniques, especially how to tackle and how to absorb a tackle and fall to the ground safely.
  • Stop training if they get hurt or feel pain. Hurt players need to get checked by an athletic trainer, coach, doctor, or nurse before going back on the field. 
  • Stay hydrated, particularly on hot, sunny days, by drinking plenty of fluids before, during, and after games and practices.
  • Know the team plan for emergencies. 
  • Play different sports throughout the year to prevent overuse injuries.

Safe Play

During games, players should:

  • Follow all safety rules used during practice.
  • Know the rules of the game and follow them.
  • Be respectful of the referees and not argue with their calls.
  • Stay calm if an opposing player seems to be trying to injure them on purpose. Let their coach and the referee know, and let them handle the situation.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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