If you participate in any sport, whether organized or otherwise, you already know there’s an inherent risk of injury. In fact, an estimated 8.6 million sports-related injuries are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But that doesn’t mean you should sit on the sidelines! The benefits of participating in sports — physical fitness, connecting with others, the thrill of competition, etc. — often outweigh the drawbacks, but evaluating risk is still important.
From essential gear like custom-fitted sports mouthguards to oft-overlooked essentials like sunscreen, the right sports safety gear can drastically reduce risk of injuries during practice and play. Investing in the items on this list will help ensure that you reap all the benefits of your sport of choice while keeping your mind and body safe. Here are some safety essentials you’ll need if you want to get — and stay — in the game!
- A Properly Fitting Helmet – Among the most critical pieces of sports safety gear is the helmet, especially for contact sports and high-accident activities like football, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, skateboarding, ice skating and cycling. Plenty of research has been conducted on the benefits of wearing a helmet during activities where impact and fall risk are high.
For example, research has shown that wearing a helmet is associated with a 51 percent reduction in odds for head injury while cycling and that they can significantly reduce the risk of skull fractures and serious brain injuries in football. Fit, style and the age of the helmet are important to ensuring proper protection. Make sure to wear a style certified for use in your specific sport.
- A Custom Mouthguard – Regardless of if your sport of choice happens on the mat, in the ring or on the field, you need a pro mouthguard to protect your teeth, mouth and jaw during competition and training. We always recommend taking the time to fit a custom mouthguard, either by getting a 3D scan at the dentist or using a boil and bite Home Impression kit to ensure the best level of protection.
A good-quality mouthguard not only ensures safety by protecting the mouth, but also by allowing athletes to properly breathe and drink water during sports. The top dental associations in the world all recommend the use of a custom mouthguard for football, lacrosse, boxing, hockey, martial arts and many other sports, so this is not an item you can risk skipping.
- Quality Eyewear – Just like your heart and muscles, your eyes play a critical role in your ability to perform at your best during practice and play. They’re also essential to your safety on the field, court or mat. Protective eyewear to keep the eyes safe is a vital component of many high-speed and high-impact sports, such as skiing, cycling and tennis.
If you have any vision problems, you also want to make sure you have a good pair of sports-friendly glasses or contact lenses to ensure that you can see properly while playing. Keeping up with regular eye doctor visits is critical to your general wellness and sports performance.
- Sunscreen – One of the most important yet overlooked items in your athletic safety gear stash is sunscreen. Chances are, you’re spending a lot of your active time outside in the sun, so you want to make sure you start off every suiting-up session with a layer of sweat-resistant SPF.
Wearing sunscreen not only keeps you safe from long-term issues like skin cancer, but, in the short term, it also protects you from sustaining painful burns that could distract you from the game or prevent you from comfortably wearing safety gear. UPF clothing — apparel designed to protect you from sun rays — can also help keep you safe from sunburn and skin cancer during outdoor activities.
- Comfortable Shoes – A good pair of shoes designed specifically for your sport will help keep you comfortable and focused during high-stakes competition and tough training sessions. But the reality is that quality shoes go much further than comfort. They also help prevent injuries, including trips and falls that could take you out of the game. Wearing unsuitable shoes also comes with long-term implications.
For example, ill-fitting shoes or those without the proper cushioning and support can cause musculoskeletal problems — including lingering pain in the joints, muscles, nerves and tendons — that affect you outside of the game.
- Safety Pads – Whether they are full-body pads for football and lacrosse or elbow and knee pads for skating, these essential pieces of sports gear can help prevent serious injuries during falls, tackles and impact from high-speed objects such as fast-pitched baseballs.
You always want to make sure you’re selecting properly fitting pads that support your most susceptible points, depending on your specific activity. In addition to thick yet lightweight body pads, you may also need a protective cup and jock strap to protect vulnerable parts while playing baseball, hockey, softball, rugby, lacrosse, soccer and other sports where fast-flying objects are par for the course, so to speak.
Fit Is Everything
When it comes to your health and safety, fitting your equipment is key. You can have the most expensive, pro-recommended stash of safety gear, and it will be useless if it doesn't fit you properly. When we say “fit,” we mean both in terms of how it fits your body and how it fits the activity at hand. Talking with experts at the shoe store, trying on safety gear and going for custom options wherever possible can help.
It’s also important to note that there is no one-stash-fits-all-sports approach to choosing safety equipment. Every activity has its own unique risks, so make sure to pick items that are recommended, approved and possibly even mandated by the rule-setters or leaders in your sport. Luckily, there are tons of awesome options out there developed by experts in virtually every sport and activity.
Take the time to find the right gear, and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain and worry later!