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Can Guardian Caps Reduce Youth Football Concussions?

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A boy holds a football helmet equipped with a Guardian Cap

From kids to the pros, reducing the risk of concussion is one of the biggest challenges in football. Based on studies at the NFL level, equipment manufacturers continually improve helmets to provide better protection and reduce risk. One of the newest options is the Guardian Cap.

“While there is no piece of equipment that completely prevents concussion or traumatic injury, there are good ways to minimize the risk for young football players,” says University Hospitals sports medicine specialist and lead medical physician for the Cleveland Browns Sean Cupp, MD.

What is the Guardian Cap?

The Guardian Cap is a soft cover add-on that fits over a football helmet hard shell to cushion a hit and reduce the risk of concussion. The waffle-designed cover has density, stiffness and energy-absorbing properties to reduce impact. It’s a reusable piece of equipment that can be used for years, as long as it fits well over the helmet.

The original Guardian Cap debuted in 2010. Since then, product changes have improved its safety and effectiveness and it has continued to gain support. Today it is used by schools, colleges and NFL teams. In 2020, the NFL began requiring some players to wear the Guardian Cap during any contact practices. In 2023, the requirements expanded from preseason practices to the entire season, with more player positions required to wear the caps.

How Effective are Guardian Caps?

Statistics show the added cushion of Guardian Caps can reduce head injury in players from kids to pros. Youths can experience up to a 33 percent reduction in impact with the caps.

“We have proven at the NFL level that Guardian Caps are effective at reducing impact severity. Use of the Guardian Cap NXT by offensive and defensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers during the 2022 preseason resulted in a 52 percent reduction in concussions for those positions during the mandated period. In addition, there was an estimated average of 15-20 percent reduction in impact severity for every helmet-to-helmet shell contact in which both players were wearing the Guardian Cap,” confirms Dr. Cupp.

Are Guardian Caps Hotter?

Studies that were conducted to investigate how Guardian Caps affect the player’s temperature and comfort showed the following.

  • Lighter-colored Guardian Caps may keep the head cooler than helmets alone when exposed to radiant heat.
  • The presence of a Guardian Cap on a helmet had less effect on heat loss than the player’s choice of helmet model.
  • There was no significant difference in core temperature or rate of rise of core temperature for athletes wearing the Guardian Cap compared to those wearing helmets alone.

In addition, no issues related to moisture or heat retention have been reported.

Positive Results

According to Dr. Cupp, negative feedback from pros has been limited to the aesthetics and the occasional detachment of the caps during impact, both of which have been improved. And no players have reported any injury or issues with neck pain or fatigue. In general, feedback from NFL players who used the Guardian Cap NXT for practices during the 2020 season was positive.

“Player safety is the top priority. Just as with other body pads and safety equipment, the extra helmet padding of Guardian Caps can go a long way toward reducing the force of impact and risk of injury during practices,” says Dr. Cupp.

“They don’t prevent all concussions, but we know they help significantly reduce the occurrence and severity of injury. And that’s enough to support their use during practices and encourage young players to wear them.”

Tips to Reduce the Risk of Youth Football Concussion

Wait to begin playing tackle football. Playing tackle football isn’t necessary to learn the game. Dr. Cupp recommends young kids start by playing flag football, which teaches the love of the game and the techniques of running, blocking, catching, and not fumbling the ball. Then kids can progress to “rookie tackle,” which uses a smaller field and less than 11 players. This teaches kids how to block and tackle properly in a safer environment.

They can progress to full tackle football later in middle school. The progression allows kids to learn the proper techniques in a safer environment before joining full tackle football with its higher risk of injury.

Proper helmet fit. When it comes to any safety equipment, proper fit is critical. The helmet should fit well, without too much movement.

Proper technique. It’s extremely important to teach kids how to tackle properly – how to put their head and shoulders in the proper position, giving them the full advantage of their body.

Related Links

The pediatric sports medicine experts at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s is dedicated to treating athletes of any age – from toddlers through adolescence and teenagers or young adults.

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