(ARA) - In the game of football, athlete protection should remain top-of-mind among parents, coaches and the public, making a player's helmet selection a crucial step prior to the upcoming season. Ongoing research shows the benefits of helmet innovations and protective enhancements. For example, Virginia Tech recently released the 2012 STAR test results evaluating the protective capacities of varsity football helmets. While such information helps parents and players make smarter helmet choices, they should also consider other key factors during the helmet selection process. Which helmet features should I know about? Football helmets are generally grouped into the varsity or youth category - varsity for players at the high school level and above, youth for players in junior high and below. A typical helmet has a protective outer shell, face guard, chin strap, internal padding and a system for fitting adjustments. Many are also equipped with an inflatable air-fit system for further customization. The outer layer of the helmet is the shell, which works as a system with the internal padding to help manage the force of impacts. Face guards protect your facial area and come in a range of configurations. Some recent models - Riddell Sports' Quick Release face guard, for example - incorporate more advanced features, such as attachment systems that can reduce cage-removal time in half. Another essential part of the helmet is the chin strap. This protective feature helps to keep the helmet securely in place. You should also know that all football helmets are certified to the standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), so be sure that your next helmet has the NOCSAE seal on the shell. How do I determine the right fit? Your new football helmet comes with fitting instructions that help you find the right amount of snugness and comfort. Get started by measuring your head's circumference an inch above your eyebrows, adjusting the size based on your head shape. To properly put your helmet on, place your thumbs over the bottom of the face pads and pull the helmet into position. A sign of good fit is when the skin of your forehead moves when you twist your helmet from side to side. As an ongoing practice, you should conduct frequent helmet inspections, examining the shell and hardware for dents, cracks or other damage. Fit should also be checked periodically, using the above guidelines. How long will my helmet last? The maximum life of your helmet is 10 years, but there is no guarantee that it will last that long. In fact, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioning Association (NAERA) refuses to recondition or recertify any helmet 10 years of age or older. It's recommended that you recondition and recertify your helmet annually to prolong its useful life. Recognizing the importance of this issue, Riddell became the first manufacturer to affix all helmet shells with an easy-to-read initial season of use label that marks each helmet's age. How do I protect myself from injuries? Football is an exciting sport, but you need to always remember that playing football has its risks - even during practices. Although you may have purchased a new helmet, it's essential that you always play smart. No helmet can prevent you from serious head or neck injuries or concussions. Important guidance for recognizing and responding to such kinds of injuries is available. A player's headache, dizziness and nausea, for example, can be symptoms of a head injury or concussion. This would require immediate removal from the field for a trained medical professional's evaluation and potential clearance. For more resources regarding concussion awareness, players, parents and coaches can participate in the online training courses offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). High Virginia Tech ratings, advanced protective features and NOCSAE certification are hallmarks of a state-of-the-art football helmet. Make an educated helmet purchase, be smart on the field and have a great 2012-2013 football season.
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