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Getting the Perfect Fit – 15 steps for finding the right helmet to help keep your players safe.

by: AFM Editorial Staff
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The proper fitting of helmets can be a time-consuming process. However, it’s a critical element in protecting players’ safety. Helmets need to be “issued and fit,” not merely handed out. Schedule and allow time for this very integral part of your program. Don’t shortchange your athletes, especially when it comes to safety.

    Proper fit is the key to head protection and player comfort. The goal is a customized fit for every player. A helmet that doesn’t fit properly will still provide protection, but may contribute to head injuries by shifting and exposing vulnerable areas that must be protected. The helmet should move with the head, or move as the head moves, in the same direction and at the same speed. The helmet should not move independently of the head. The helmet shell, internal components and facemask all function as part of a helmet system designed to protect the head of the athlete wearing the helmet.

    If it is possible to provide a player with a choice between two equal helmets or two styles of helmets, every effort should be made to accommodate his preference, as long as the person doing the fitting (equipment manager, football coach, athletic trainer) feels that the preferred helmet or helmet style does provide the proper fit. Allow the player input into selection and fitting of his helmet. Understand and learn what a properly fit helmet is and then trust your experience. The final decision as to a proper fit is a shared responsibility between the person doing the fitting and player being fit. If more than one helmet or style is judged to be acceptable, it is feasible to allow the player to chose based on his past experience in wearing that particular brand or style, as well as his feelings about the comfort of the product. If a player is uncomfortable with a particular brand or style of helmet, his performance may suffer due to a lack of confidence in the product.

    Here’s what leading helmet manufacturers had to say about the importance of proper fit and how they help their customers achieve it:

“Without a doubt, the absolute most important part of a helmet’s ability to protect an athlete is the fitting. The best protecting helmet is the helmet that fits the best and is properly fitted. We’ve created individual fitting videos for each of our helmets and posted them online – on our website, our Schutt Sports YouTube channel and on our Facebook page; specific instructions for how to achieve the precise, custom fit for each of our helmets. We also utilize our international network of team dealers to make sure there is an experienced professional within easy reach of any team to help them fit their helmets properly.”
Glenn Beckmann

Marketing Communications Manager, Schutt Sports

“Rawlings believes in helping football players perform at their highest level on the field. Educating coaches, players and parents on how to properly fit a helmet and perform regularly scheduled fit checks is a key component to helmet performance.  Directions on how to properly fit a Rawlings helmet can be found on hangtags and”

Rawlings Sporting Goods
“Proper fitting is obviously an important component of safety, which also includes the helmet simply staying on the player’s head during an impact.  We’ve tried to make the fitting process as easy and reliable as possible with our helmet’s adaptive fit system and the video instructions we provide on our website.  Every helmet comes with an insert with a red “stop” sign that instructs the wearer to first visit our website to view the fit video.  As part of our customer service policy, we also guarantee that we won’t stop working until a comfortable and proper fit is attained.” 

Vincent R. Ferrara, Xenith Founder and CEO

    The following steps are a general guideline for all helmets. Each particular manufacturer may have a specific procedure for fitting their particular styles of helmets. Check with each individual manufacturer whose helmet is in your inventory. Most manufacturers have helmet fitting videos and fitting posters available to assist in your fitting. 
1. Read and explain to the player the warning label on the back of the helmet. This will make sure the player understands the possible injuries and consequences, which may result from using the helmet improperly. Have the player sign the form acknowledging that these dangers have been explained to him. Keep this signed form on file.
2. Determine the normal hair length of the athlete. His hair length when he is fit may not be the same length as it will be during the season, especially if the fitting is done in the off-season.

3. Wet the athlete’s hair prior to fitting the helmet. A damp cloth or some water applied to the hair makes the initial fitting easier and will also approximate game and practice conditions when the players are sweating.
4. Before fitting, note any irregularities of the head. There are a variety of different head shapes encountered when fitting football helmets. Some of the more common types are: 1) round, full face; 2) square, full face with extended jaw; 3) oblong and narrow face (typically at the cheeks and temples); 4) sloping forehead with high forehead profile. Any of these types may be found in combination with any of the others. Each head shape requires different considerations when fitting.
5. Take the player’s head measurement to determine the proper shell size. To do this, use a measuring tape and measure the circumference of the head approximately one inch above the eyebrow. 
6. During this preliminary fitting period, conduct an on-head visual inspection. After you have put the helmet on the player’s head, it may sometimes appear to fit during the visual inspection, but subsequent tests will show the need for adjustments to be made.

7. Check to see if the player’s ears are in the center of the helmet ear openings or below the center. If the helmet’s ear openings are too high, the helmet is too small or possibly the inner liner may be over inflated. If the helmet ear openings are too low, the helmet is too big or the inner liner is under inflated. Remove the helmet, make the necessary adjustments and put it back on for another trial fit. It may be necessary to try another size and/or style if the helmet is still too small or too big after initial adjustments are made.
8. Check to see that the eyebrows are approximately 1 to 1-1/2” below the helmet’s front rim. If there is a gap of more than 1 inch, generally the helmet is too small and if there is less, it is too large. If the helmet is too small, it causes the facemask to sit too high and can cause vision problems. If the helmet is too big, it can also cause vision problems as it sits too low and is prone to move around on the player’s head. 
9. Try to rotate the helmet side-to-side. There are various ways to do this. One is to ask the player to “bull” his neck. Grab the faceguard in the middle and attempt to move the helmet from side to side. There should be some movement of the forehead skin and hair with the helmet, but it should not slip. Using the center loops on the faceguard as a guide, the nose should stay within a line directly down the center of the helmet and the center of the loop. If the nose moves to the right and left beyond these loops, generally the fit needs to be adjusted or the helmet is still too big. 
10. Check the crown adjustment of the helmet. There are various ways to do this. One method is to request the player to clasp his hands over the crown of the helmet and push straight down. The pressure should be felt on the crown. This test also cross-checks the eyebrow test.
11. Check the forehead pressure and back-to-front fit. One method to do this is to have the player rotate his hands down to the rear of the helmet from the crown test. Keep the hands clasped together and attempt to push the helmet forward. Usually a gap of a finger width or less between the forehead and front sizer is acceptable. If there is a gap of considerable size, the fitting may need to be adjusted.
12. Check the chin strap fit. The function of the chin strap is to hold the helmet in place. Make sure the cup is centered on the point of the chin and all four straps have the slack taken out. Begin fitting with the back or lower chin strap first. It is important that the high hook-up chin straps go underneath the facemask. Due to its location, if it is hit during the course of play and pops off, the faceguard will hold it in place. If it is attached over the guard, it doesn’t lay flat and is more prone to coming off. When putting high hook-up chin straps underneath the facemask, slide the chin strap and buckle underneath next to the nose bumper as this is the widest part of the mask, then slide the chin strap out to the attachment point. Do not allow your players to play with unsnapped chin straps. This can cause the helmet to pop off on contact. 
13. Check the faceguard. There should be adequate spacing between the faceguard and the tip of the nose. If the guard is too close, there may be “rebound” problems. If the guard is too far away, there may be room for a blow to be delivered underneath the guard. Generally, three finger widths from the tip of the nose is acceptable.
14. Check the fit in the rear of the helmet. The occipital lobe should be covered by the shell. The rear of the helmet should cradle the neck. It should not chafe from a tight fit, nor leave a large gap from a loose fit. 
15. Check the player’s vision, both peripherally, as well as up and down. Peripherally, the player should be able to track a finger about 180 degrees, up and down to about 75 degrees.
    Coaches have a responsibility to do everything they can to ensure the safety of their players. That begins with making sure their equipment fits properly before they even set foot on the field. Follow these suggestions and you are on your way to a safer season.


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