Why Are Players More Prone to Losing Helmets?

Posted on September 11, 2013 | in Defects, Ergonomics, Football, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Problem Solving, Root Cause Analysis, Safety, Sports | by
richmond university spiders helmet lost football

With such a large focus on football safety, why are players’ helmets flying off during play?

I have been watching football for about 30 years, but have really only genuinely paid attention to football for 25 – hey, a national championship by the local university known as Notre Dame will make even the non-watchers three counties away stand up and notice.

During that 25 years, never have I seen a frequency of helmets flying off of players’ heads during games than these last few years. I haven’t run any numbers but I’m not the only one to notice.

College football implemented two rules about helmet removal in the last couple of years with an eye on safety. One, a player whose helmet comes off during play must come off the field for the next play, with the expectation that a concussion test can be administered (if needed) or helmets can be adjusted for better fit UNLESS it is abundantly clear the helmet was ripped off through no fault of the now-helmetless player. Not coming off of the field when required is a penalty.

Two, a player who has his helmet removed during play must immediately cease participating in the play. I believe officials will rule a play dead on the spot if it is a ball carrier that has his helmet removed.


Autonomous management has taught me that the priority order of effective problem solving is as follows:

– Eradication of the problem – the problem can never come back/error-proofing
– Minimization of the problem – reduce the chance of occurrence of the problem/issue, as close to error-proofed as possible
– Containment of the problem – along the lines of problem occurrence reduction, keep the problem in control and keep it from getting out of hand
– Clean the problem – the most laborious and investment-intensive step, forcibly take care of the problems as they occur, which is better than letting the problem run rampant

The closer to problem eradication you can get, typically the better off you’ll be.

If you can’t fully fix it, minimize it. If you can’t minimize it, contain it. If you can’t contain it, create policy and rules around it and enforce those policies and rules.


So relative to autonomous management, creating in-game rules about helmets and player safety is effectively the level of “cleaning the problem” because not only does the problem still exist it’s hardly contained to certain players/leagues/levels/ages, but it is one that can be manipulated.

This article covers how the helmet rules cover up the genuine problem and can be manipulated by opposing players. I’m inclined to side with this stance. It isn’t fixing the problem – it merely throws policy at it.

What can be done to eradicate the problem with the helmets flying off? First, we need to understand why they come off unexpectedly in the first place. Without performing a full-blown fishbone diagram for root cause analysis, I’ll list off some categories and sub-categories of places to look. As with a fishbone diagram, some ideas will fit in multiple categories

– Proper fit for each player’s head that promotes comfort and safety while also remaining in place
– Knowledge/training on how to properly fit a helmet to individual players’ heads
– Following of proper safety practices in place with helmet – proper padding, proper use and attachment of chin strap, etc.
– Direction of hit from opposing players that could most easily cause helmet removal
– Amount of hair players have between scalp and helmet padding – lack of rigidity could cause ease of removal

– Helmet design/variations in design for different shapes of heads
– Helmet coverage of head
– Chin strap design/placements
– Facemask – distance away from face
– Types/shapes of padding in helmet

– Stretch of chin straps
– Chin strap clasp/snaps
– Padding
– Helmet rigidity
– Sweat between skin/hair and padding

– Standards for assessing helmet fit
– Use of standard safety features like air pockets for custom fits and properly snapped-in chin straps
– Direction of hits/pulls that make helmet removal easiest

– Standards for assessing helmet fit
– Force necessary for removing helmet

– Rain/sweat/moisture
– Manufacturer’s defect causing broken helmet/chinstrap
– Jadeveon Clowney

jadeveon clowney hit gif

While this list is only one level deep in each category and is thereby not exhaustive, nowhere in the whole concept of problem eradication is it mentioned that “creating a rule” is a good way to eliminate the problem.

So what should football do? Go back to helmet manufacturers and ask for better root cause analysis and implement findings into their designs. Hold manufacturers accountable for good products instead of sticking with the manufacturers who give the most sponsorship money. Make it harder for players to violate helmet fits. Football can maintain the rules on the field about helmet removal, but if manufacturers do their job properly then the helmet removal rules will become less of an issue since helmets will be removed far less often.

Again, not everyone thinks removed helmets is an issue. The NFL? The league claiming safety is their #1 priority? The league that just agreed to a $700M+ settlement with retired players regarding ill health effects caused by their playing football? From the linked article:

(NFL) spokesman Greg Aiello, in an e-mail, said, “We require chin straps to be buckled for safety reasons, and I do not think flying helmets is a significant issue for us.”

Others will disagree, of course.

Two of the University of Richmond’s top offensive players lost their helmets twice each following contact with N.C. State players during the first half of the Spiders’ 23-21 loss on Saturday night.

Richmond coach Danny Rocco said Monday that after analyzing video, he views the helmet situation as “more of (an) equipment type of an issue than it was any intent by the Wolfpack.”

Senior receiver Ben Edwards lost his helmet while breaking a tackle during an early-game completion. He continued running with the ball, and was injured as he was brought down. Edwards suffered a concussion, Rocco said on Monday, and a head laceration that required nine stitches.


“I was on the field, I think, six times, standing over some of my players. I’ve never had that situation,” said Rocco, UR’s second-year coach who directed Liberty’s program 2006-11. “You don’t go out onto the field every time one of your kids gets hurt. But you would if you were concerned about something. You know what I’m saying? It happened six times.”

If you have to create a rule to prevent a problem, dig deeper to find ways to keep the problem from happening in the first place.

(H/T to Uni Watch for pointing out the Richmond Spiders helmet article)

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4 Responses to “Why Are Players More Prone to Losing Helmets?”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    Yes, I saw a play blown dead on Saturday… ball carrier had his helmet ripped off by the facemask. Blown dead… plus 15 yards for the penalty.

    It seems that stopping the ball carrier might provide a bit of an incentive to, if beaten on a play, stick a paw up and hope for a facemask, sort of like college DBs have an incentive to interfere on a pass in the end zone.

    Of course, it’s easier to maul a receiver than it is to ensure that a helmet comes off to stop the play. If you try and fail, the play continues PLUS 15, so it’s a riskier “strategy.”

    • Chad Walters says:

      This illustrates another reason using rules and policy for getting rid of a problem – it creates even more problems. It generates different strategies that take advantage of said rules, as you pointed out.

      If helmets were of better design and usage, such ridiculous (but viable) strategies would not be applicable.

      • Mark Graban says:

        True – or there’s the argument that helmets make the game less safe and we should be more like rugby or the leather helmet days. The hard shell helmets with facemasks become a tempting weapon… that change to do away with helmets will probably NEVER happen though. But some argue for it. Illustrates your point of solving one problem and causing others.

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