Reducing Risk in Sports: Protect your head and face

Reducing Risk in Sports: Protect your head and face


Reducing Risk in Sports: Protect your head and face


USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.

March is National Athletic Training Month, and with this year’s theme, “Our protection is your priority,” athletic trainers want to be sure you have the proper protective gear for your head and face as you participate in sports.

Scott Sailor, president of National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

Many injuries to the face and head – ranging from concussion to bruise, laceration, broken nose and eye or tooth injury – can be serious, and proper protection, whether mandated or recommended should be taken seriously.

Athletes participating in spring sports that use a small ball such as baseball, softball, tennis, lacrosse and field hockey are particularly susceptible to head and face injuries due to the high velocity of the ball. It’s easier said than done, but be aware of your surroundings, and when appropriate wear protective gear that will help reduce injuries.

Here’s a list of some of the protective equipment used to prevent injuries:


  • Helmets are mandatory in high school football, ice hockey, baseball, softball and men’s lacrosse. They are designed to prevent skull fractures, not prevent concussions.
  • It’s critical that helmets be properly fitted. Your athletic trainer can help ensure this and that all other equipment is appropriate for you and the position you play in the sport.
  • Helmets should display a NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment) sticker and should be recertified through standards on a regular basis – check with your school’s athletic director or head coach to be sure this is happening.


  • Facemasks are required in high school ice hockey, men’s lacrosse and football; in some states, they are required in softball.
  • The goal of a hockey and lacrosse facemask is to protect the eyes and the jaw; in football, the goal is to protect all of the facial bones.
  • Different positions necessitate different types of facemasks to offer a specific type of protection; for example, the helmet for a football lineman will have a more closed cage than one for a quarterback or receiver.

Protective Goggles

  • In most sports, goggles are optional; however, in field hockey they are highly recommended and are mandated in some states.
  • In small ball sports, such as racquetball and tennis, it’s extremely important to wear goggles to protect your eyes and the bones surrounding them.
  • You’ll also want to wear protective goggles if you play basketball or football and have had a previous eye injury. In swimming, they can protect the eyes from chemicals or other irritants in the water and can facilitate better underwater vision.

Ear Protection

  • Wrestling and water polo are the two sports with the strongest need for ear protection.
  • In high school wrestling, headgear is required during all competitions but many athletes choose not to wear it during practice. Unfortunately, this is the cause for many preventable ear injuries.
  • In high school water polo, caps are required throughout competition, as well as practice, depending on your school’s requirements. The cap prevents injuries to the scalp and ear as well swimmers ear, which can affect your hearing and increase the risk of infection.

 Mouth and throat protection 

  • Fitted mouthguards are required in high school field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. They are only mandatory for wrestling if you wear braces or an orthodontic device.
  • Mouthguards are an easy, relatively inexpensive and effective way to help you prevent injuries to your teeth and mouth.
  • Throat guards are required for high school hockey goalies, softball and baseball catchers and lacrosse goalies. They serve as critical protection against potentially serious injuries ranging from contusions to lacerations and fractures.

Make sure you protect your head and face from any injuries. Take the time to wear all appropriate equipment and be sure it fits properly. If you’re unsure about what protective gear you need for your sport, consult with your athletic trainer, equipment manager and coach. NATA has created an infographic handout on dental injuries and oral injuries. Visit for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.


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