Following are frequently asked questions and answers concerning NOCSAE policies and procedures, adoption and enforcement of the standards, and issues related to safety and specific sports athletic equipment.
NOCSAE welcomes questions and encourages you to reach out to us directly for additional information. Please email NOCSAE Executive Director, Mike Oliver.
- What is NOCSAE?
- What is NOCSAE’s role?
- Who is NOCSAE?
- How is NOCSAE funded?
- How does NOCSAE create and set standards?
- How can I get a copy of a NOCSAE standard?
- How are products certified to NOCSAE standards?
- How are NOCSAE standards enforced?
- How can I determine if a product meets the NOCSAE standard?
- Does the NOCSAE logo have to be embossed on equipment such as helmets and face guards?
- What penalty will be imposed if an athlete is not wearing certified protective equipment mandated by the rules?
- How do add-on products impact helmets certified to the NOCSAE standard?
- Can a helmet which bears the NOCSAE seal be altered or repaired without legal ramifications?
- What is NOCSAE’s Severity Index (SI)?
- Why is the Severity Index (SI) threshold 1200? Would a lower SI threshold provide more protection?
- What risks do athletes and parents need to understand when it comes to participation in sports, even when using athletic equipment that meets the NOCSAE standard?
- Why do helmets certified to the NOCSAE standard include a warning label?
- Does NOCSAE certify athletic equipment?
- How does the NOCSAE recertification process work?
- How often does NOCSAE require that a football helmet be recertified?
- How long will helmets stay in certified condition?
- What happens when a helmet no longer meets the standard?
- Which reconditioners can recertify previously certified football helmets?
- Does the NOCSAE standard require the use of specific brand name replacement parts when helmets are reconditioned?
- What is the helmet’s role in protecting against concussions?
- Does certification to the NOCSAE standard mean that a helmet prevents concussions?
- Can the NOCSAE helmet test results be used to determine which helmet is the best helmet for protecting against concussions?
- How is NOCSAE advancing concussion research?
Commotio Cordis – Protector Performance Standard for Commotio Cordis
- What is commotio cordis and how does NOCSAE’s protector performance standard protect against it?
- Are products currently available that meet the NOCSAE protector performance standard for commotio cordis? Is the standard required by sports governing bodies?
(For questions about concussion risks and protection, see previous section.)
- How can I determine if a helmet meets the NOCSAE helmet test standard?
- How does NOCSAE’s football helmet standard address youth and adult players?
- What are the most important factors when selecting a football helmet?
- How are football helmets tested?
- Are all football helmet sizes tested?
- Does the NFL require that players wear helmets certified to NOCSAE standards?
- Does NOCSAE have a rule that prevents helmets that are 10 years old or older from being worn or recertified to NOCSAE standards?
- How are lacrosse helmets and face masks tested?
- What steps can consumers take to ensure lacrosse balls meet NOCSAE standards?
- How does resurfacing used lacrosse balls affect their certification to a NOCSAE standard?
- Does NOCSAE have a standard for protective headgear for fast pitch softball pitchers?
- Do cheek flap products meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
- Do new helmet models that include a built-in cheek flap meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
- Are products available that meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
- Why do some youth leagues not allow cheek flaps?
What is NOCSAE?
The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment or NOCSAE (pronounced “noxey”) is an independent and nonprofit standards development body with the sole mission to enhance athletic safety through scientific research and the creation of performance standards for athletic equipment. Since its inception in 1969, NOCSAE has been a leading force in the effort to improve athletic equipment, and to reduce injuries through robust standards for athletic equipment.
NOCSAE was originally formed in response to a need for a performance test standard for football helmets. In 1973, the NOCSAE Football Helmet Standard was developed and new helmet models were first tested to this standard in 1974. The first baseball batting helmet standard was published in 1981, and helmet models were tested to this standard beginning in 1983. The baseball standard has since been designated as the baseball/softball batting helmet standard. In 1986 a performance test standard was published for lacrosse helmets and face guards, and in 1987, a standard for football face guards was released.
Today, NOCSAE has 49 performance and test standards for a wide range of sports and continues to investigate other athletic equipment to determine the feasibility or necessity of establishing additional standards. NOCSAE standards are constantly being updated to reflect the latest science, technology and medicine.
NOCSAE develops voluntary performance and test standards for athletic equipment that are available for adoption by any athletic regulatory body. Numerous national and international regulatory bodies for sports require NOCSAE standards, including the NFL, NCAA, National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), International Federation of American Football, USA Football, US Lacrosse and the United States Department of Defense Education Activity which oversees and regulates military base athletic programs for the children of military families around the world.
NOCSAE’s board of directors represent a diverse and passionate group of sports and medical professionals that have joined forces for the common goal of reducing sports-related injuries. Serving without compensation, NOCSAE’s board of directors is comprised of representatives from the American College Health Association, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, Athletic Equipment Managers Association, American Football Coaches Association, National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association, National Athletic Trainers Association, Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Non-voting members of the board include the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
NOCSAE is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization funded primarily through licensing fees it charges to equipment manufacturers that want to have their equipment certified or recertified to NOCSAE standards.
Approximately 75 to 80 percent of all revenue collected from these license fees is reinvested into education and research to advance the science and safety of athletes. Manufacturers and reconditioners are obligated by contract license agreement with NOCSAE to maintain detailed quality control and quality assurance programs which include testing randomly selected helmets during production to make sure they meet the NOCSAE standards.
How does NOCSAE create and set standards?
NOCSAE standards are created, revised and approved by the NOCSAE Standards Committee, which serves as a consensus body in accordance with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) due process requirements for standards development bodies. The NOCSAE standard is an objective pass/fail standard, not a comparative standard. NOCSAE standards are constantly being updated to reflect the latest science, technology and medicine.
The makeup of the NOCSAE Standards Committee is inclusive of all materially affected interests that may be impacted by its standards. The requires that a balance of interests always be maintained on the Standards Committee, and these requirements prevent any single interest from dominating the Standards Committee or the development, promulgation, or revision of a standard.
NOCSAE invites anyone who may be impacted by a standard to be involved in its development, including those who represent the sports and medical communities, manufacturers, parents and others. Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments, suggestions, objections or other responses to any standards under consideration or existing standards. This openness and invitation to participation in the standards development process complies with ANSI due process guidelines.
How can I get a copy of a standard?
The current standards and any proposed revisions or modifications are available in the NOCSAE Standards section of our website.
How are products certified to the NOCSAE standards?
NOCSAE sets performance and test standards for athletic equipment. NOCSAE does not certify or approve athletic equipment. Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) oversees the certification of athletic equipment to NOCSAE standards.
Since 2015, NOCSAE has required third-party certification of compliance with NOCSAE standards. Third-party certification enhances the integrity of all NOCSAE standards, giving athletes confidence that their athletic equipment has been tested by a neutral, independent body to meet the highest performance standards. This is the most stringent and unbiased way to determine standards compliance, as the third party cannot have any connection to manufacturers or products they certify. NOCSAE is the only athletic equipment standards development organization that mandates independent third-party certification of compliance, in accordance with ANSI/ISO 17065 international guidelines. Learn more in the Certification section of our website or at the SEI website: www.seinet.org
Both the manufacturer and SEI as the certifying body have the right, under the NOCSAE standards, to declare a certification void if the certified product is altered after certification and made available for sale. A model is certified in the condition and configuration it is offered for sale to the public. An alteration or addition to that configuration after sale may change the performance characteristics.
Manufacturers seeking to certify their products to NOCSAE standards will need to submit necessary testing fees, product testing samples, product labels, quality program manuals and other required materials to SEI. Manufacturers also will participate in a quality audit and review protocols for responding to customer complaints regarding product performance.
How are NOCSAE standards enforced?
NOCSAE does not possess a surveillance force to ensure compliance with the standards. The standards are voluntary and are available for adoption by any equipment manufacturer, user group or athletic regulatory body. However, if a firm affixes the NOCSAE seal to its helmets, it accepts the responsibility that all of those helmets meet the appropriate NOCSAE standards. Likewise, it is the responsibility of a reconditioner to recertify that all helmets to which the firm affixes its seal of recertification meet the NOCSAE standard applicable at the time the helmet was originally manufactured. If a helmet with a NOCSAE seal attached is found deficient, notice should be given to the NOCSAE board of directors or to the executive director.
How can I determine if a product meets the NOCSAE standard?
Look for the NOCSAE logo. The “Meets NOCSAE Standard” logo confirms that a sports equipment product meets the latest science, technology and medicine criteria, providing the best possible protection for that athlete. The logo indicates that compliance with the NOCSAE standard has been independently certified by Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). All athletic equipment products that meet the NOCSAE standard are certified by SEI and a complete list of certified products is available on their website at www.seinet.org.
Does the NOCSAE logo have to be embossed on equipment such as helmets and face guards?
The NOCSAE standards require that the logos and warnings be “permanent” as that word is defined in document ND001-17m17b:
“Permanent (Label/Marking) – A label, or similar marking, that cannot be readily (1), removed without leaving a trace of its previous existence (2), erased or (3), smudged to the point that it is illegible. If it requires chemical or mechanical means such as the use of solvents, abrasives, grinding, etc., to remove a label or marking, then that label or marking is acceptable.”
Many helmets will have the logos embossed or stamped into the shell, but others may use a permanent label or printing to accomplish the same goal. As long as the label is permanent as defined above, the equipment labeling requirement is satisfied.
What penalty will be imposed if an athlete is not wearing certified protected equipment mandated by the rules?
For specific rules and requirements regarding athletic equipment used in football, baseball/softball and lacrosse, the respective rules-making groups of the sponsoring organization would be contacted, i.e., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), etc. There may be some circumstances where the use of non-certified equipment constitutes the use of illegal equipment and could result in player disqualification.
How do add-on products impact helmets certified to the NOCSAE standard?
Helmets should not be altered. Add-on accessories can change a helmet and interfere with performance in ways unintended by the manufacturer. The helmet’s original padding, fit and components were tested for compliance with the NOCSAE standards, and altering these components may result in a helmet that does not perform as designed, and could increase the risk of injury. A manufacturer can declare a product’s certification to the NOCSAE standard void if its product is altered.
Can a helmet which bears the NOCSAE seal be altered or repaired without legal ramifications?
A helmet should not be altered. Any change or modification in the configuration of the shell or liner materials from manufacturing specifications could substantially alter the performance of the helmet as a unit, causing a change in helmet performance, and possibly exposing the individual responsible to liability. Individual helmet models are certified in the condition and configuration in which they were manufactured, and any alteration, modification, or change from the manufacturing specifications could affect the model’s performance on the NOCSAE certification test. By following proper installation procedures and using replacement parts which meet or exceed original manufacturer specifications, skilled repair of a football helmet should not affect the integrity of the energy attenuation system. It is suggested that the manufacturer be consulted before any materials are applied to the helmet such as, but not limited to, paint, wax, thinners, solvents, vinyl tape designs, cleaning agents, etc.
What is NOCSAE’s Severity Index?
NOCSAE’s Severity Index (SI) is a weighted impulse threshold criterion for a general category of significant head injuries based on scientific research and published data. SI is a method for measuring a helmet’s ability to reduce linear head accelerations caused by impact forces to the helmet. SI measurements are obtained from a range of different impact velocities to multiple locations and at various angles and temperatures, and from impacts with varying projectiles and impact surfaces. Test head form size and mass vary with different size helmets to demonstrate performance across all sizes offered in a given model.
The NOCSAE helmet standard uses a pass/fail threshold of 1200 SI to determine whether a helmet meets the standard performance criteria. Each helmet must perform below 1200 SI on every impact location. Helmets that perform below 1200 SI have been shown to reduce skull fracture, TBI, and other significant head and brain injuries. Once the 1200 SI threshold is met, there is no clinically measurable difference in injury risk based on lower SI scores. For example, a value of 450 SI isn’t more likely to reduce injury than 800 SI.
It is impractical for every individual helmet to be tested, so every certified helmet must be part of a comprehensive quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) certification program that applies a 3 standard deviation (SD), or a 0.65 acceptance quality level (AQL) requirement to randomly selected samples that accurately and statistically represent an entire batch or production run of the same model and size. The NOCSAE mandated QA/QC program establishes to a 95% confidence level that 99+% of the untested helmets would meet the standard if every helmet was tested. This level of compliance is the toughest of all helmet QA/QC programs, including military combat helmets and motorcycle helmets tested to federal helmet standards.
There is no single SI number for any single helmet or model. A helmet model in any given size alone may have over 10,000 different SI scores from all samples tested, depending on the number of helmets produced. NOCSAE does not allow SI-related safety claims about one model or brand over another because such claims would be scientifically unfounded and misleading to consumers.
Why is the Severity Index (SI) threshold 1200? Would a lower SI threshold provide more protection?
Once the 1200 Severity Index (SI) threshold is met, there is no measurable difference in injury risk based on differences in SI scores. The SI value is a pass/fail threshold which is based on a number of scientific studies, but the data does not support using the SI numbers as a ‘sliding scale’, such that lower numbers reduce or prevent more injuries than higher numbers. For example, there is no way to determine whether a reduction of 200 SI units would result in measurable protective improvement in a helmet for all types of potential injuries. For example, it is not accurate to say that a helmet with an overall SI average of 600 is measurably better than a helmet with an overall SI average of 500. Most new and recently reconditioned helmets test far below the threshold, generally averaging in the 600-800 SI range. The ideal SI value for reducing the occurrence of one type of injury at low level hits may not be the same value for a higher impact force.
What risks do athletes and parents need to understand when it comes to participation in sports, even when using athletic equipment that meets the NOCSAE standard?
Participation in sports requires an acceptance of risk of injury. Parents and players should understand that no helmet can prevent all concussions, and no helmet can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death.
Using properly certified equipment is important in reducing the risk of injury, but it is only one of several steps that athletes and parents must take to reduce injury risk and injury severity. Avoiding unnecessary head contact and following the rules which prohibit dangerous play are all necessary parts of injury prevention. And when an injury does occur, it must be addressed immediately.
Players that experience concussion symptoms including loss of consciousness or memory, dizziness, headache, nausea or confusion, should immediately stop athletic activity and report these symptoms to their coach, athletic trainer and parents. Players should not return to a game or participation in sports until all symptoms are gone and medical clearance has been confirmed. Ignoring this warning may lead to another and more serious or fatal brain injury.
Why do helmets certified to the NOCSAE standard include a warning label?
The NOCSAE warning label requirement has long been a part of each standard and is intended to warn participants of the limitations of protection. The helmet is designed to provide additional direct protection for the head, but neither football, baseball/softball batting, baseball/softball catcher’s or lacrosse helmets protect a player’s neck.
NOCSAE urges that the warning statement be shared with members of the football, baseball, softball and lacrosse teams and that all coaches alert participants to the potential for injury. The wording of the warning label as set forth in the NOCSAE standard specifies the core information that must be conveyed by the label, but permits a manufacturer to add or supplement the content as it determines necessary.
Does NOCSAE certify athletic equipment?
NOCSAE sets test and performance standards for athletic equipment, including football helmets. NOCSAE does not certify or approve athletic equipment. Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) oversees the certification of athletic equipment to NOCSAE standards. Third-party certification enhances the integrity of all NOCSAE standards, giving athletes confidence that their athletic equipment has been tested by a neutral, independent body to meet the highest performance standards.
How does the NOCSAE recertification process work?
NOCSAE is the only standards organization that has a provision for recertification. Headgear standards include a requirement that the original manufacturer inform the consumer of the headgear’s eligibility for recertification. If it is re-certifiable then an interval of re-certification must be provided. If it is not re-certifiable then a certification life statement must be provided. This information must appear on the headgear. Recertification must be carried out in accordance with the specific NOCSAE standard applicable to the headgear type by a licensed recertification house. Currently all such entities are members of the National Athletic Equipment Re-conditioners Association. (NAERA)
More information about the recertification and reconditioning process is available on the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA) website at http://naera.net/.
How often does NOCSAE require that helmets be recertified?
NOCSAE recommends that organizations adopt and follow a program of helmet inspection and reconditioning that meets their particular needs. For example, some schools recondition and recertify their football helmets every year, others every two years. But in any case, recertification must take place as called for by the manufacturer.
How long will helmets stay in certified condition?
Helmets are initially certified as part of the manufacturer’s process. For helmets manufactured after 2017, the life of initial certification is provided as detailed above (see “How does the NOCSAE recertification process work?”) The recertification process cannot extend that interval. For helmets manufactured prior to that date, the interval of required recertification to maintain warranty should be used as guidance. The recertification entity may declare the helmet is recertified for only one year or may follow the original manufacturer’s initial certification life as guidance to extend recertification life to not longer than that period specified by the manufacturer. Helmets prohibited from recertification by the manufacturer cannot be recertified.
What happens when a helmet no longer meets the standard?
The helmet must not be used. In some cases, the no-longer-certified helmet can be recertified. For example, you have a re-certifiable helmet that must be re-certified every other year. But the helmet is now three years old. It was not used the last year for any number of reasons. You want to recertify the helmet and use it this year. So long as the helmet is presented to a licensed recertification entity and the helmet is not more than ten years from the date of initial certification, then it is eligible for recertification. Note: the ten year interval is set by NAERA and often helmets submitted cannot be recertified for any number of reasons other than age.
Which reconditioners can recertify previously certified football helmets?
Information about licensed reconditioners is available on the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA) website at http://naera.net/.
Does the NOCSAE standard require the use of specific brand name replacement parts when helmets are reconditioned?
No. The NOCSAE standard is not brand specific. Neither the test nor the performance standard call for any specific brands, materials or designs. The standard speaks only to the performance of the helmet when new, and recertification. The standard does not require the use of original equipment parts, but does require that “all components must function as originally certified” which requires OEM equivalence.
What is the helmet’s role in protecting against concussions?
Helmets provide a substantial level of protection for serious head injuries, including concussions, but no helmet can prevent all concussions. Concussions are complex events that involve many variables that have nothing to do with helmets or head protection. Concussions are caused by impacts to the head, neck and other parts of the body that result in the movement of the brain inside the head. Concussions can occur anytime a human body collides with another or with the ground. The reality is that a helmet can’t stop the brain from moving inside the head.
Changing behaviors and attitudes of players, parents and coaches is critical. Proper blocking and tackling techniques reduce the number of hits to the head which will reduce the risk of concussion and other head injuries. This includes reducing exposure by limiting full contact practices. If a concussion has been diagnosed, your child should not return to play until cleared by medically trained experts following return-to-play guidelines.
Does certification to the NOCSAE standard mean that a helmet prevents concussions?
A helmet certified to a NOCSAE standard provides a substantial level of protection for serious head injuries, including concussions. However, the NOCSAE helmet standard is not a concussion standard, and no helmet can prevent all concussions, even those certified to the NOCSAE standard. Currently there are no helmet standards in existence that are concussion specific. NOCSAE has been and is currently dedicating millions of dollars in concussion specific scientific research to try and identify criteria that could be used in a concussion specific helmet standard.
In 2017, NOCSAE finalized revisions to its existing football helmet standard to limit maximum rotational forces involved in many concussions. Rotational accelerations are thought by the majority of neuroscientists to be more injurious to the brain than linear accelerations. The revised football helmet standard went into effect in November 2018 and represents a critical step forward in addressing concussion risks.
Can the NOCSAE helmet test results be used to determine which helmet is the best helmet for protecting against concussions?
No. The NOCSAE helmet standard uses a pass/fail threshold of 1200 SI to determine whether a helmet meets the standard performance criteria. A helmet must perform below 1200 SI, by at least three statistical standard deviations in all demanding impact locations. Once the 1200 SI threshold is met, there is no measurable difference in injury risk based on differences in SI scores. For example, a value of 450 SI isn’t more likely to reduce concussion injury than 800 SI.
There is no single SI number for any single helmet or model. A helmet model in any given size alone may have over 10,000 different SI scores from all samples tested, depending on the number of helmets produced. NOCSAE does not allow SI-related safety claims about one model or brand over another because such claims would be scientifically unfounded and misleading to consumers. Regarding concussion protection claims, there is currently no scientific consensus for a concussion or sub-concussive threshold, whether that threshold is SI, accelerations in engineering units or other values. It is a misuse of SI values to make helmet comparisons, particularly when the comparative question is concussion protection.
How is NOCSAE working to advance concussion research in sports?
Since 1995, NOCSAE has spent more than $10.5 million on concussion research by the foremost experts in sports medicine and science to develop and advance athlete safety. In 2017, NOCSAE finalized revisions to its existing football helmet standard to limit maximum rotational forces involved in many concussions. Rotational accelerations are thought by the majority of neuroscientists to be more injurious to the brain than linear accelerations. The revised football helmet standard that went into effect in November 2018 represents a critical step forward in addressing concussion risks. NOCSAE continues to work to identify criteria that could be used in a concussion-specific helmet standard in the future.
Commotio Cordis Protector – Performance Standard for Commotio Cordis
What is commotio cordis and how does NOCSAE’s protector performance standard protect against it?
Commotio cordis, a heart rhythm disruption caused by a blow to the chest, is one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac death in athletes. The condition is an episode of ventricular fibrillation induced by a direct blow to the chest over the heart during a specific portion of the heart’s electrical cycle. This can be caused by a direct hit from an object such as a baseball or lacrosse ball, a lacrosse stick or even a collision with another player. The impact doesn’t have to be hard or high velocity. Approximately five to 15 athletes die every year from this event. Most of these deaths are males under the age of 14, many of whom were wearing a form of chest protection when they were hit. Commotio cordis deaths have been recorded in baseball, lacrosse, football, and soccer, as well as in other recreational activities.
In 2017, NOCSAE finalized its chest protector standard for commotio cordis, based on a scientific breakthrough in understanding the cause and prevention of commotio cordis. In conjunction with research efforts by the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, NOCSAE funded more than $1.1 million in research to discover the precise cause of commotio cordis and then determine how to protect against it. Through a series of NOCSAE funded studies, Dr. Mark Link, M.D., identified the precise cause of commotio cordis, including the critical moment of occurrence in the cardiac cycle. With funding from NOCSAE, research engineers Cynthia Bir, PhD, and Nathan Dau, PhD, at Wayne State University were able to develop a mechanical chest surrogate that mimics the response of the human chest and heart to testing impacts. With the identification of an injury prevention threshold by Dr. Link and laboratory validation of the mechanical chest surrogate, NOCSAE developed the world’s first chest protection standard specific for commotio cordis. Equipment certified to this new standard is expected to significantly reduce the risk of injury and death from commotio cordis. The new standards currently are specific to baseball and lacrosse only, but plans are being developed to include other sports.
Even the best protective equipment cannot prevent all such injuries, so it is important for coaches, parents, players and bystanders to be able to recognize the danger if an athlete is struck in the chest and collapses. Without immediate efforts to resuscitate the victim with an automated external defibrillator (AED), death can occur within just a few minutes. Coaches, parents and athletes who have access to an AED and training in CPR will help prevent tragic outcomes from commotio cordis. When an AED is used within three minutes of a collapse, survival rates are as high as 89 percent.
Are products currently available that meet the NOCSAE protector performance standard for commotio cordis? Is the standard required by sports governing bodies?
The NOCSAE protector performance standard for commotio cordis applies to baseball and lacrosse and went into effect July 1, 2018. Currently, there are several protectors on the market that meet the standard. For updates on products that meet the standard, visit http://www.seinet.org/search/search.php.
The new standard is a recommendation for manufacturers, but with support from US Lacrosse and the NFHS, NOCSAE is hopeful that compliance with the standard will be part of the rules of play in lacrosse and baseball very soon.
(For specific questions about concussion risks and protections, see previous section.)
How can I determine if a helmet meets the NOCSAE helmet test standard?
Helmets which meet the NOCSAE standard must bear the seal, “Meets NOCSAE standards” and the logo for that type of helmet. The seal and logo are permanently branded or stamped on the outside rear portion of the helmet.
How does NOCSAE’s football helmet standard address youth and adult players?
The NOCSAE football helmet standard applies to helmets of all sizes, worn by players of all sizes from youth to adult. The NOCSAE standards utilize variable-mass biofidelic headforms to account for the different sized players. Helmet sizes likely to be worn by players at the youth level are tested on the smallest headform which represents a 10-year-old male in the 50th percentile of head mass and shape. As helmet sizes get larger, headforms with more mass are used in the testing protocol. The largest headform represents the 95th percentile adult male for head mass and shape.
NOCSAE has been researching the potential benefits of creating a separate standard for helmets designed for youth. At this time, there is insufficient data to suggest a distinct helmet mass limit for youth or other similar performance changes would provide more injury protection, or would protect against injury risks not already addressed.
As we have for years, NOCSAE continues to prioritize this issue. We are the only standards organization actively pursuing a youth helmet standard through active research grants and contract funding. However, NOCSAE will not develop a standard without solid science from which we can conclude that taking an action such as limiting helmet mass will not present an increased risk of injury or otherwise prohibit the helmet from effectively addressing rotational acceleration-induced injuries.
What are the most important factors when selecting a football helmet?
NOCSAE recommends that helmets be certified as compliant to the NOCSAE standard, be regularly recertified, and properly fitted to the individual athlete’s head. Helmets are designed for safety and performance based on proper fit ― specifically contact with the head.
How are football helmets tested?
The NOCSAE helmet testing standards utilize a twin-wire impactor that relies on gravity to accelerate the headform and helmet combination to the required impact speeds. The standard also requires the use of a pneumatic ram impactor to deliver impacts in locations and directions that are not possible with the twin wire system. The NOCSAE headform is a biofidelic and variable-mass headform scientifically instrumented with triaxial accelerometers at the center of gravity to measure headform accelerations in three different directions.
The testing involves mounting a football helmet on an appropriately sized and mass-specific headform. The headform and helmet combination is then dropped at specific velocities onto a steel anvil covered with a ½-inch hard rubber pad. A single helmet test involves 29 impacts at seven different impact locations, including three random impact locations, four lower-velocity impacts, and four impacts at high temperatures. For the pneumatic ram testing, the helmet and headform are mounted onto a linear bearing table and impacted with a pneumatic ram at 19.6 meters per second on six different locations, including one random location. Helmets must meet the standard at all impacts in both testing configurations.
Are all football helmet sizes tested?
No. It would not be feasible to test all helmet sizes. The most critical sizes are tested in the three or four most common shell sizes used by most equipment manufacturers. These sizes have the least amount of standoff distance between head and shell, and if these shell sizes meet the NOCSAE standard, it is reasonable to assume the other helmet sizes in that particular shell would also pass.
Does the NFL require that players wear helmets certified to NOCSAE standards?
Yes, the NFL requires players to wear helmets that meet test and performance standards set by NOCSAE. NOCSAE does not certify or approve athletic equipment. Football helmets are certified to NOCSAE standards by Safety Equipment Institute (SEI). Third-party certification enhances the integrity of all NOCSAE standards, giving athletes confidence that their athletic equipment has been tested by a neutral, independent body to meet the highest performance standards.
Does NOCSAE have a rule that prevents helmets that are 10 years old or older from being worn or recertified to NOCSAE standards?
No. NOCSAE does not have a rule that prevents players in the NFL or any league from wearing football helmets that are more than 10 years old. There is also no NOCSAE rule that prevents football helmets 10 years old or older from being recertified to NOCSAE standards.
The rule that prevents recertification for helmets after 10 years is set by NAERA, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association. NOCSAE does not participate in the management or administration of NAERA and does not direct or control NAERA policies.
How are lacrosse helmets and face masks tested?
Impact by the ball and stick, as well as collision with other players and turf are the hazards which must be guarded against in this sport. Consequently, the helmet is mounted on the appropriate size head model and is subjected to one drop test from 60 inches onto six specified locations plus a random location, at ambient temperature. The side of the helmet is also subjected to a single 60-inch drop immediately after being stored for four hours at 120 degrees F. The front, side, rear and two random locations are struck by the ball at 70 mph at ambient temperature, and the side is struck by the ball at 60 mph, after being stored for four hours at 120 degrees F. Shock measurements are taken by a triaxial accelerometer mounted at the center of gravity of the head model to determine if the helmet meets an established Severity Index tolerance. There is a recertification procedure which involves one drop from 48 inches onto two locations, including front and one rotated position, on a sufficient number of randomly chosen helmets, as well as 100 percent inspection of all helmets. This procedure forms the basis for parts replacement and rejection of helmets adequate to ensure that all helmets leaving the plant will meet the Standard. Face masks are subjected to ball and stick penetration and deflection tests at 55 mph and at ambient temperature. Neither the ball, stick nor mask must touch the face. A stick impact test is also conducted at 40 mph after the helmet and face mask have been stored for four hours at 120 degrees F. Recertification of masks is dependent upon inspection of all masks. Masks must not be distorted more than 1/8 inch from a standard form and attaching straps and hardware must be free of distortion, defect or deterioration upon disassembly. Manufacturers certify and reconditioners recertify that helmets meet the respective performance test standards. NOCSAE does not certify, recertify, approve or disapprove helmets or any other athletic equipment.
What steps can consumers take to ensure lacrosse balls meet NOCSAE standards?
In March 2018, NOCSAE issued a warning for lacrosse players, coaches and teams to use caution when purchasing lacrosse balls online. NOCSAE is taking aggressive steps to stop the sale of counterfeit lacrosse balls by multiple illegitimate vendors, primarily on the Internet, including working with Amazon, GoDaddy and other online shopping platforms to shut down vendors selling lacrosse balls that have not been certified to the NOCSAE standard. Without proper testing and certification to the NOCSAE standard, these counterfeit lacrosse balls could pose safety risks for players. For example, helmets are tested with balls that meet the standard. Any balls which don’t meet the standard could penetrate the face guard, break the shell, or bottom-out the padding if the ball is too hard, too soft, and/or too small.
Consumers should also be aware that many of the counterfeit lacrosse balls appear to have the proper NOCSAE and Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) logos, but the vendors in question are not registered licensees and the balls fail to meet the NOCSAE standard. Consumers should not rely solely on the presence of on-ball marking to assess whether lacrosse balls meet the NOCSAE standard. To ensure these products have been certified to the NOCSAE standard, NOCSAE recommends checking the name of the manufacturer and the ball model against the certified product list available on the SEI website at www.seinet.org.
How does resurfacing used lacrosse balls affect their certification to a NOCSAE standard?
Resurfacing used lacrosse balls will invalidate the certification to a NOCSAE standard. Balls that have undergone changes that occur during the resurfacing process are in a different condition than they were in when they were initially tested and certified. Such changes can reduce a ball’s weight and circumference, and may change the dynamic performance properties of compression-displacement (C-D), and coefficient of restitution (COR). Any such change will negate the original certification, even if the NOCSAE and SEI logos are still visible. Read more here.
Does NOCSAE have a standard for protective headgear for fast pitch softball pitchers?
NOCSAE has a headgear standard for defensive players in baseball and softball, which would include the pitcher. This standard, ND029, specifies equipment that would provide only head protection, or head and facial protection. The standard does not include equipment that provides facial protection only.
The exposure of a defensive player, including the pitcher, to serious injury from a batted ball is greater than the exposure of a base runner. Baseball and softball rules of play, almost unanimously, specify that a baserunner must wear a helmet as a minimum level of protection while running the bases. Some leagues and organizations may also require the addition of a face guard, but none permit a baserunner to wear only facial protection. The NOCSAE standard for baseball and softball defensive players follows the same logic.
Do cheek flap products meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
No. Cheek flap products cannot meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection because they do not protect the eyes, nose and mouth.
Do new helmet models that include a built-in cheek flap meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
No. While newer helmet models that include only a built-in cheek flap do meet the NOCSAE standard for head protection, they do not meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection.
It’s important to note the difference between head protection – the helmet; and face protection –the face guard. When purchasing a helmet with a built-in cheek flap, consumers should understand that the “Meets NOCSAE Standard” logo applies to the NOCSAE standard for head protection. The cheek flap is not included in that standard and does not meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection.
Are products available that meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection?
Yes. Face guard products that meet the NOCSAE standard for face protection are widely available. Currently, 11 different brands sell face guards certified to the NOCSAE standards, not including face guards that are sold as part of a combination helmet/face guard package. The “Meets NOCSAE Standard” logo indicates a face guard meets rigorous safety and quality control criteria and provides protection for the entire face, including the eyes, nose and mouth.
Why do some youth leagues not allow cheek flaps?
While the policies of youth sports leagues vary with each organization, add-on helmet accessories are often not allowed because they change the original helmet model. The addition of an add-on product from a third-party manufacturer can void the NOCSAE certification, because it creates a new and untested model, as defined by NOCSAE standards. This policy has been a part of NOCSAE standards for many years, applies to all NOCSAE standards, and is typical of certification procedures for other types of personal protection equipment. See, e.g., NIOSH standards for respirators and the use of after-market modifications.
Does NOCSAE have a hockey helmet standard?
While NOCSAE offers a standard for hockey helmets, it is not the standard chosen by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC). NOCSAE published its hockey helmet standard in 2002 after its testing indicated that existing standards didn’t require the level of protection NOCSAE’s scientific committee would recommend based on the level of injury exposure in the game. Upon completion, NOCSAE shared its research findings and standard with the HECC for its consideration. None of the hockey helmets on the market today are certified to the NOCSAE standard. It’s important to note that hockey helmets should not be compared directly to helmets designed for football or any other sport. Variations in frequency and types of exposure must be considered.