The face mask has made its mark on the softball playing field. From 8U to college ball, if you attend a game or practice you can bet that you will see players wearing a face mask when they are on the defensive side of the game. Face masks are most common at the youth ball and club ball levels, but before long they will be taking over the high school and college game as well. But how safe are face masks really? How is it that one brand of masks, can fit every single player’s face? Are masks aiming to protect the face or the head solely as well? We have some questions, and we need answers.
Face masks were designed to protect the face. The masks are made out of plastic that molds to the face and is supported by a strap that goes around the head and has a wire that goes across the face and connects to the chin piece. That single wire is probably the most effective part of the face mask because if a ball does make contact with it, the face will be untouched. No more broken noses, fractured cheekbones, fat lips, or black eyes. This seems to be an effective solution for the injuries associated with a ball to the face, but what about the safety of the head?
A face mask will not protect the player from a blow to the head. Even if the line drive hits the player in the face mask, there is still a good chance the player will suffer from whiplash or brain movement that could lead to a minor or major concussion. The mask will limit the blow from direct contact with the ball if it hits the wire, but if the ball hits the plastic molding that is touching the players head, the impact may as well feel like a direct hit.
This brings up the next lingering question, how can face mask manufacturers create one product that is expected to fit everyone’s face and head? They simply can’t, and we have all seen players whose masks are too big. These players will be continuously adjusting the mask on the field and in the dugout. You may even witness a player trying to chase down a ball, and the mask is jiggling around or in some instances even falls over the eyes or off the head completely. Loose fitting masks don’t benefit players for safety reasons, and they can be distracting if the masks are not secured properly or don’t fit correctly.
If face masks move around or don’t fit the player correctly, this can be dangerous. Moving face masks can impair the sight of a player for a split second, and if this happens, they could lose sight of the ball and the playing field. Also be on the lookout for face masks that are too small for players because this could be just as unsafe as a loose fitting one. If a player’s mask is too small, more of their forehead and temples can be exposed. It only takes one line-drive to the forehead or a temple shot to do some damage to a player. It’s important that the mask is protecting the face, but even more importantly, the head needs to be protected as well.
Face masks have made their mark on the softball playing field. Even parents are joining the movement and are putting on a mask to catch pitchers during practice. Face mask manufacturers need to find a way to be accommodating to everyone wanting to wear a mask. There is no way a mask that keeps the face of a 10U player safe will also keep the parent using the same mask to catch a pitcher safe too. Before face masks came into our sport, mouth guards were becoming popular among infielders. Each mouthpiece was customized to fit the mouth of the player, and this is the direction and concept the face mask manufacturers should start thinking about exploring. Creating a product that is customized and will ensure the safety of the player wearing the mask will limit injury to the face and more importantly, the head.