American Football: Equipment Check
Millions of viewers around the world tune in to American Football’s annual showcase event, the Super Bowl, not least because of the glitz and glamour associated with it. But beyond the foam fingers of the fans, and the choreography of the cheerleaders, even the hyperbole of the commentators, it is the magnificent athleticism of the players themselves that is the main attraction, and the bravery that they display in the face of the fierce tackling.
Oh yes, say the sport’s detractors, but look at the amount of protection those guys are wearing; they won’t be taking the full force of the impact of an opponent when they are suited up with shoulder pads, gum shields and helmets. This view misses the entire point of the contest: it is not about excessive bravery – the human equivalent of bumper cars - but great handling skills, fine footwork and a keen eye for the tactics that can outsmart the most obdurate of opponents.
Nevertheless the physical challenge is part of the game, which is why the safety equipment worn by the players is important. So for those seduced by watching the game on TV and who want to turn out for their local team as a linebacker, running back, or perhaps best of all, as the quarterback, what are the constituent parts that go towards suiting up correctly before taking to the field?
Torso and BodyLet’s start with the torso and lower body. The keyword here is padding, in order to minimise impact. The most exposed area, and the one that can offer the best protection from the challenge of an opponent, is the shoulder. Ensure that the set you choose provides a good fit, to prevent slipping during play that can compromise the equipment’s ability to protect. They should also allow optimum movement, otherwise your throwing, running and catching will be compromised. Two other exposed areas are the hips and elbows, both of which can come off worse from a heavy fall – which is why protection has been specifically designed for these areas.
As far as the lower body is concerned, the main areas in need of protection are the knees and thighs. Again pads covering both areas are the primary source of damage limitation. But don’t forget that choosing the correct footwear can also contribute to avoiding injury in these areas because it can provide the stability that helps a player stay on their feet in the thick of the action.
HeadgearThe most conspicuous piece of protective clothing is headgear. Opinions may differ about the amount of body armour a player needs; no-one ever suggests kicking off without their helmet. Choose one that comes complete with both chin strap and jaw pads – component parts should be adjustable in order to provide the player with both a good fit and maximum protection. Be sure to supplement your helmet purchase with a mouthguard, or gum shield.
Parents may look at such a list of protective clothing with horror, in short because it implies there is a high risk of sustaining an injury. The good news is that younger players can still enjoy the physical and tactical challenges of the game without the contact element by participating in Flag Football. When they are of age to graduate to the senior game, it is a good idea to seek advice from the coaching staff with regard to equipment.
In common with all contact sports, playing American Football does carry with it the risk of injury. However wearing high quality, correctly fitted equipment means the risk factor is greatly reduced without taking anything away from the heat of battle.