Sports Equipment: Fit and Function


A key component to injury prevention in youth sports is the proper utilization of athletic equipment.  Equipment guidelines are variable and specific for each sport so it is important to check with the national governing sport body regarding current and specific protocols.  

As youth athlete’s grow and develop the size and padding needs of the equipment must change accordingly.   Protective equipment such as mouthguards, padding, proper foot wear, helmets, eye wear, gloves etc should always be worn when engaging in the sport, regardless if it is a practice or a game.   Coaches and parents should monitor appropriate use and fit of safety equipment worn by younger athletes and assist in the adjustment of equipment when necessary.  Coaches, parent and officials in youth sports must be aware of the problem of “risk compensation.”  Risk compensation occurs when the athlete acts in a dangerous manner because they are wearing protective equipment, and this behavior can actually result in an increased amount of sporting injuries.  

Common Protective Equipment:

Mouthguards:  regulated in sports such as field hockey, ice hockey, rugby, football and lacrosse but also commonly seen in sports such as soccer and basketball.  Mouthguards should be worn in order to prevent dental injuries. They are generally only worn on the upper jaw and can either be “one size fits all” or created for a custom fit by a dentist.  The  “one size fits all” model are less effective, but cheaper, than the custom fit mouth guards custom made by the dentist.   

Helmets: helmets with hard exterior shells help to protect the head and face as well as absorbing shock from an impact.  They are commonly seen in sports such as football, hockey wrestling, equestrian, cycling, roller blading and skiing.  Helmets protect against forms of head injury including skull fractures and can reduce the impact forces felt by the brain up on impact.    “Head injury rates are often higher in adolescent athletes than in adult athletes,” which highlights the importance of wearing helmets in both practices and games in order to preserve young athletes’ health and safety.   Trained personal in the specific sport should be sought out to ensure properly fitting helmets to all athletes.

Footwear:  Footwear varies depending on the sport and the position.  If specific footwear is available for a sport or playing surface it should be utilized rather than general running shoes or cross trainers. Footwear the does not match the playing surface can lead to increased risk of subsequent injuries such as knee , lower limb and back injuries. Trained sport specific professionals should be utilized in choosing the correct footwear for the athlete.  Footwear should be assessed for comfort, fit and stability.  Unique foot biomechanics as well as sporting needs must be considered for each athlete.  

Brukner, P. and Khan, K. Brukner and Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine Brukner, P. and Khan, K. (2007) Brukner and Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine. 4th ed. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill.

Sports Medicine Australia. Safety guidelines for children and young people in sport and recreation, 2008. Accessed March 13 2013.




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