Nathan East, Christopher G. Ballmann, FACSM, Gracie Robbins, Amanda Dumar, Ashleigh Davis, Ashley Rice, Rebecca R. Rogers. Samford University, Birmingham, AL.

BACKGROUND: Football headgear has become increasingly bulkier over time in efforts to prevent head/neck injuries. However, increases in facemask reinforcement have been shown to cause vision impairment. We have previously shown that peripheral vision reaction time and target detection are hindered with heavier facemask reinforcement. However, athletes were stationary when completing reaction time tests which may not translate to actual gameplay. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to identify how varying facemask reinforcement influences agility and functional reactive ability in NCAA football players METHODS: Division 1 NCAA football players with normal/corrected to normal vision participated. In a randomized manner, participants completed reactive tests for the following conditions: Baseline/no helmet (BL), Light reinforced (HL), Medium reinforced (HM), Heavy reinforced (HH) face masks. For each condition, participants completed two reactive tests using a FITLIGHT trainer system: reactive reach test (RRT) and reactive step test (RST). For the RRT, 5 poles equipped with a total of 10 LED sensors were placed in a semi-circle 1 meter around a center point. Participants were asked to step and reach to hit 10 lights with their hands as fast as possible. For the RST, 5 LED sensors were place on the ground in a semi-circle pattern 1 meter around a center point. Participants were asked to step and hit each sensor with their foot to hit 5 lights as fast as possible. Each reactive test was repeated for a total of 3 attempts. Average reaction time and time to test completion (TTC) were analyzed and compared between facemask condition. RESULTS: HL (p= 0.030), HM (p= 0.034), and HH (p=0.003) conditions resulted in slower reaction time during RRT compared to BL. TTC was significantly increased during the HL (p= 0.021), HM (p= 0.013), and HH (p=0.011) versus BL. However, no differences existed between facemasks (p> 0.05). For the RST, reaction time was slower during HL (p= 0.027), HM (p= 0.018), and HH (p= 0.015) conditions versus BL. TTC was significantly higher during the HL (p= 0.046), HM (p= 0.029), and HH (p=0.017) versus BL. No differences existed between facemask conditions (p> 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Regardless of facemask reinforcement, wearing a football helmet impairs functional reactive ability and agility performance. Since unobstructed vision on the field is important for safety and performance, these findings may have important implications on equipment regulations for safety in collegiate football.

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