Today more than ever before, football coaches and equipment managers are faced with the reality that football equipment is evolving at an exciting pace. That’s why it’s so important for football coaches and equipment managers to learn about new equipment technology to keep players protected. Shared internally, that information can be a cornerstone to a safety-first approach across the program.
The No. 1 goal, regardless of wins and losses, is safety, and it makes sense for equipment managers to build relationships with student-athletes and pay special attention to their history before fitting something as critical as a football helmet.
“Because of the heightened awareness of head injury and the talk of concussion from pee-wee football to the NFL, I think new technology is making equipment managers better because they want to make sure they are getting their athletes into the best-possible equipment, the safest-possible equipment,” says Ryan Grooms, Vice President of Elite Accounts for VICIS in the Midwest.
Grooms’ pedigree as an equipment manager is above reproach. For the last nine years, he was Head Football Equipment Manager for the University of Notre Dame. Before that, he served as Director of Football Equipment at the University of Minnesota for two years and spent nearly five years at the United States Air Force Academy as an Equipment Specialist.“As an equipment manager for close to 17 years, my personal approach has been to make sure the players had options,” he says. “A player has a level of comfort coming from high school regarding the helmet they’ve worn. Coming to a college program from high school generally increases the kid’s options. That’s great because larger budgets open the door to newer gear and better technology. Maybe they didn’t have a choice in high school, maybe their equipment manager said, ‘Hey there’s your helmet, put it on,’ and nobody really took the time to fit them correctly or educate them about their options. Personally history, preferences, background, and individual fit are all considerations as you go to properly select a helmet for a player.”
Grooms says the equipment manager’s role used to be as a “socks and jocks” guy, a sort of “here’s your t-shirt” type of job that wasn’t as laser-focused on all aspects of equipment or on how innovations can influence a program’s success or an individual’s safety. Today, it’s important that equipment managers develop great relationships and learn about everyone involved in the program – including athletic trainers and strength coaches – because that collective knowledge leads to safer programs.
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“The job is so much more involved now and I think it’s so important that you have a good working relationship with your athletic trainers,” he says. “More often than not, the support staff are involved in equipment performance conversations. When VICIS works with Notre Dame, I invite the athletic trainer as well. Helmets, of course, play a huge role in on-field performance, but more than ever the medical and training staff weigh in on these decisions as well. I think it’s great that more programs are including athletic training staff in equipment discussions, because that’s how football teams can be more successful. That’s why they’re there, to support each other and to support their athletes. Support staff – it’s right there in the name.”
These days, as Vice President of Elite Accounts for VICIS in the Midwest, Grooms has the opportunity to see how those relationships hold programs together and provide a foundation upon which great coaches can build successful teams. Grooms still sees athlete safety as the No. 1 responsibility of everyone involved in the great game of football.
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“Safety is the top goal. Our job is 100 percent safety,” he says. “It’s a customer-service-based job. I’ve said this for years. Being an equipment manager is customer service. You don’t have a job if not for those student-athletes. It’s your job to protect them, keep them safe and outfit them in the best equipment possible. Developing relationships with the entire program definitely leads to better outcomes and safer teams.”
This article was written by Paul Markgraff, managing editor of AFCA Magazine and AFCA Insider. Follow him on Twitter at Football Coach Daily.