For the first time a research group has released a helmet rating focused purely on children’s helmets, and the initial crop of reviews are promising for youth football safety.
The Virginia Tech Helmet Lab released its initial youth football helmet ratings on Wednesday, with at least one model from all the primary helmet manufacturers receiving a top five-star rating.
As noted by the Boston Globe, a total of seven helmet models received five stars, with three Schutt models earning that rating, two Xenith helmets and one VICIS and Riddell helmet each earning top ratings. Other helmets by the same manufacturers received three and four star ratings.
The best score overall was provided by the VICIS Zero1 Youth, which scored a 0.69 (0.00 would be a perfect score). The other five-star rated helmets were the Xenith Youth X2E+, Schutt Youth F7, Xenith Youth Epic+, Schutt Youth Vengeance A3+, Riddell Youth SpeedFlex and Schutt Youth Vengeance A3.
The VICIS Zero1 was the second most expensive model on the entire list, behind the third-best-rated Schutt Youth F7. On the other hand, the fourth-most expensive was actually the three-star rated Schutt Youth Vengeance Z10, proving that cost in itself was not a direct indicator of safety rating.
The critical factor in the new testing protocol is its focus on youth helmets in particular. As noted by Steve Rowson, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and director at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab, the physical dimensions of younger bodies makes the impact tests that are typically performed on larger helmets less effective in determining what will and won’t limit risk to CTE, leading to the new testing protocol.
“Kids aren’t just scaled-down adults,” Rowson told the Globe. “Their heads are larger relative to their necks, their necks are weaker, and their brains are still developing.”
“At this point, we have a pretty good idea of how youth players impact their helmets, and which impacts are most likely to result in concussion. We were able to take that information from the field and replicate those impacts in the lab, so that we were evaluating the helmets under realistic conditions that are relevant to youth players.”
That second element is particularly encouraging. If researchers are indeed closer to identifying precisely the types of impacts that lead to concussions, the game can truly take steps toward limiting their impact in the field, and perhaps even determine whether tackle football is ever truly safe at younger ages, a growing debate in a number of states.