Youth pads tend to provide equal protection for all players, since tackling and specialization are not as much a part of youth football.
Adult shoulder pads tend to be broken out by position and level of play.
Shoulder Pad Features
Below are descriptive words for certain features that may give you an idea what position a particular pad is designed for:
Quarter Back and Wide Receiver: Flexibility, swivel, narrow, light, reinforced, high arch, low profile, 1’’ or thin belt, no extra or heavy epaulets, arm motion range, mobility, agility, flat pads, back plate
Running Back and Defensive Back: Light-weight, reinforced, flexibility, low-profile, arm motion range, thick padding, strong cushioning, mobility, agility, impact protection, back plate
All-Purpose, Full Back, and Line Backer: Secure fit, solid, thick padding, strong cushioning, plated/solid front, 1-1/2’’ belt, sturdy buckles, light to mid-weight, quick movements, strong impact protection
Lineman: Full impact protection, hard hits, high-profile pads, streamlined, 1-1/2’’ belt, sturdy buckles, thick padding, full cups, reinforced back and front, cantilever, neck restrictor
Determine a Player’s Measurements
Prepare: The player should wear a tight-fitting shirt. Supplies – cloth tape measure, paper, pen, scale, brand size chart.
Chest Size: Wrap a cloth measuring tape around the widest part of a player’s chest, beginning and ending in the center. Write down the measurement.
Shoulder Size: To determine the width of a player’s shoulders, have them hold their arms out to the side. Find the indentation on the left side where the shoulder meets the arm. Have the player lower their arms. Stretch the tape from the left to the right, ending at the same junction on the right shoulder. Make sure the measuring tape travels over the curve of the shoulders near the back of the neck, not straight across or on the shoulder blades. If necessary, round up to the nearest half-inch. Write down the measurement.
Weight: Because youth shoulder pads are often sized by weight class, be prepared to weigh the player. The player should not wear shoes or clothes heavier than a t-shirt and shorts on the scale. Write down the weight.
Take the measurements and compare them to the brand sizing chart of the preferred brand. Find the closest fit. Choose a size over rather than under if the player is between sizes. Make sure the pads are correctly fitted.
Fitting Shoulder Pads
Without scratching the players eyes, nose, or ears, put the pads on over the head.
Cinch and tighten all straps and laces. This will include all fastenings in the front, back, and on the sides. Buckle all belts and straps.
The pads should rest snugly against the chest and back, without chafing or discomfort. The pads should not pinch the player’s collar. About 1’’ of padding should extend beyond the shoulder.
The player should lift their hands above their heads to confirm the pads are comfortably covering the chest, sternum and collarbone, upper shoulders, shoulder blades and upper back.
The player should test the fit by performing on-field actions, looking for full range of motion and comfort. Adjust in small increments until the best fit is ensured.
If buckles and straps are tightened, mark where they are along the strap after the perfect fit is determined. If they need re-adjusting, a bit of whiteout or marker will show where they used to be.
When any extra parts such as neck rolls or back plates are attached, make sure the player can still perform on-field actions, and check for chafing and discomfort.
Arches: the space and curve beneath the front pad and shoulder pads – leaving space and room for the player’s body. Higher arches may allow greater impact protection or greater motion capabilities, depending on where and how they are placed.
Auxiliary/Bias: secondary cushions beneath the shoulder cups that occur in scale-like layers bridging the chest and shoulder to provide greater impact protection.
Belt/BuckleSystems – Vinyl, T-Hooks, Y, Z: Part of the customizable fit system, every type and style of belt and buckle connects the back of the football pads to the front and provides a secure fit for the player. The belt passes beneath the armpits on the left and right sides. Vinyl belts are both sturdier and less flexible than elastic straps.
Cantilever: these shoulder pads have a higher profile, providing more cushioning and shock protection, reducing shoulder impact for action-heavy linemen. There’s less flexibility, and less ease of arm movement, but the cantilever style provides superior protection against direct impact.
Flat Shoulder Pad: A low-profile shoulder, these pads provide less cushioning but more flexibility and range of arm motion, allowing quarterbacks and receivers to turn, twist, throw, and catch with fewer issues than high-profile pads cause.
Channels and channel systems: A set of pads arranged to divert force away from the main impact area. Some channel systems can be resized and removed, others are an integrated part of the shoulder pads. Channel systems are placed over the bones of the shoulder and the clavicle to prevent shoulder dislocation, bruising, and bone breaks.
Chest Plate: The two-piece outer shell that is riveted to the shoulder pads and shell. This will often have several eyelets or grommet holes for different types of belt systems, lacing, and padding add-ons. Unlike the back plate, the chest plate is part of the shoulder pad system. The two pieces may curve up, over the shoulders, and down the upper back if they are made of a single piece.
Cup: Hangs on the curve of the shoulder down the arm – a hard exo-skeleton over the auxiliary pads, providing extra joint protection.
Deltoid Pads: These are the main pads that curve over the shoulders, extending over the outer edge of the shoulder bone.
Epaulet/Flap: Covers the shoulder between the cup and the neck. The epaulet or flap is the outermost part of the outer shell for shoulder protection, and is often connected to the chest plate. Extended epaulets make vertical arm motion difficult. Narrow epaulets make vertical arm motion easier.
Flat Pad/Main Body Cushion: Lying directly beneath the outer shell of the chest plate and shoulders, the main body cushion is often covered with a liner for comfort, and may be constructed of dual-density foam. It provides the bulk of the cushioning protection on the chest.
Laces: Not every shoulder pad system has lacing, but many do. The laces bring together the front chest plates for a secure fit. They are easy to replace.
Lining: The innermost layer of the shoulder pad system which rests against the under-shirt or skin of the player. Some linings may be anti-microbial, and they are often constructed of a soft, non-chafing material.
Neck and Neck Padding: The opening in the pads that go over the head. The opening is often padded and lined with soft material to prevent chafing against the neck.
Outer Shell: The outermost layer of the football shoulder pads. It is usually made of a hard, vinyl-like or plastic material. The shell absorbs most of the impact, and the rest is dispersed by the foam beneath. Cracked shells should be replaced, not repaired.
Rivets: Often constructed of metal bolts, these small pieces attach the various layers of the outer shell and the inner padding together to provide sturdy construction, and no slippage of the various pieces of the shoulder pad system.
Snubbers: Used to connect the epaulets to the main body of the shoulder pads. If an epaulet peels off during play, it means that the snubber has failed/broken.
Under Arm Hook-ups: Another set of belts or elastic straps directly underneath the arm that pulls the shoulder pads snug against the body and keeps them in place during play.
Extra Protection Options
Back Plate: A shoulder pad accessory that doesn’t come attached, the back plate protects the lower back, spine, and kidneys from hits. It is easy to attach to shoulder pads, and gives extra protection for positions like quarterbacks.
Neck Rolls and Restrictors: Neck rolls are made to help stabilize the helmet, preventing injury to the small bones of the upper spine and neck muscles. It also prevents abrasions from the neck of the shoulder pads or helmet. Neck restrictors offer more protection to the entire neck than traditional neck rolls do, but they may also come with the sacrifice of less motion of the helmet, head, and neck.
Rib Protectors and Guards including Rib Belt/Rib Protector/Rib Vest: Rib protection comes in several different types, but all of them have one purpose – to protect the delicate bones of the ribs. All of them are separate from the shoulder pad system. Some are worn beneath it, and some attach to the system. The different options offer various flexibility and impact protection for the many positions on the field.
Padded Undershirts: These compression shirts are padded along the shoulders, ribs, and spine for extra impact protection. Worn beneath the pads and jersey, they add that extra skin-tight layer of protection necessary for higher level players. Designed for comfort and performance, they also tend to have anti-microbial and moisture-wicking properties.
Injury Pads: When injuries occur, the body needs to recuperate. Sometimes this means being benched, but for some, injury pads can provide the extra protection those injuries need for recuperation without sidelining the player. Injury pads provide extra impact protection for bruised, healing shoulders. The pads are thick but lightweight, allowing ease of movement.
Cleaning Shoulder Pads
Always let them air out after a game. Don’t throw the pads in a locker or bag while wet with sweat, as that will help breed rash-causing or wound-infecting bacteria.
The hard outer shell pieces are simple to wipe down with a damp, soapy cloth. Remove all dirt and sweat. Make sure while cleaning to check for cracks or scratches. Dry with a cloth after the shell has been cleaned.
The fabric/foam pads on the inside will be the smelliest part. An anti-odor disinfectant spray should take care of the bulk of the bacteria that cause it. If the smell is embedded deep, then use a disinfectant cloth to scrub into the pads. Make sure to choose an athletic gear disinfectant that is safe for prolonged skin contact.
Have your pads reconditioned and sanitized by a professional cleaner at the end of season, or as necessary. The pads will be taken apart – the shell inspected and cleaned, and the foam and fabric parts washed in 140 degree water.
Pro Tip: Give your gear bag a good go over with disinfectant spray as well. Let it dry before packing your gear into it. Try to keep your gear as ventilated as possible.
Reconditioning Shoulder Pads
Professional cleaners and reconditioners make sure to fully inspect every part of the shoulder pad system. They check all of the hardware for cracks, deformation, and wear and tear – then replace what’s needed. All of the straps are given a thorough examination. The padding is removed from the hard shell, thoroughly cleaned, and treated with deodorizers, detergents, disinfectant, and antimicrobial treatments.
Reconditioning your football equipment every season will make your shoulder pads and helmets last longer, and keep you safe on the field.