A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How We Design Soccer Headgear

Feb 1, 2023

Soccer headgear has existed for two decades. Research studies have shown that they can reduce the risk of concussions, and anecdotal reports from professional and amateur soccer players suggest they are helpful. And yet still, soccer headgear is the most scrutinized piece of gear players are encouraged to wear. 

This largely stems from a lack of understanding of how headgear is designed and the testing and research that goes into it. But we think if people had more insight into the process of designing soccer headgear, some of the skepticism could break. 

Before the ExoShield 

Before the 2010s, soccer concussion headgear, not to mention research around concussions, was an enigma. Sure, they existed, but no one talked about them (and for headgear, no one wore them). But we saw a major concern here, being a safety gear manufacturer. 

You had high-profile stars getting knocked out and sent off to the ER due to head injuries. Petr Cech, the Czech-born goalkeeper for Chelsea, sustained a depressed skull fracture in 2006 after a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt just fifteen seconds into the match. He eventually recovered and would go on to wear concussion headgear, but suffered long-term effects, such as memory loss. 

A decade earlier, American soccer player Bruce Murray had to retire at the age of twenty-nine due to multiple concussions, from which he still suffers effects. These kinds of head injuries were happening at all levels of play. 

Studies began emerging during the 90s and 00s regarding the dangers of soccer concussions. However, they were sparse, not widely published, and largely ignored. Soccer players, their families, and fans alike were left in the dark. 

So the available soccer gear at the time mostly remained on the shelves. It didn’t help that they looked—for a lack of a better term—”dorky” and clunky. 

Dawn of a new decade 

We opened our doors in 2010 with the purpose of creating soccer protective gear that addressed injuries other companies were not. Soccer concussions were among them, and not long after the birth of Storelli, we launched the ExoShield headguard. 

Our goal was to create concussion headgear that checked off multiple boxes—tested for efficacy, designed for practicality, and priced for affordability, among other factors. It was our response to the lack of high-quality head protection and limited options, not to mention the lack of interest to make better ones. 

The ExoShield soccer headguard: How we got there

  1. We analyzed the market to find opportunities to make better headgear.
  2. We sourced better materials to create stronger concussion headgear.
  3. We designed a headgear that’s comfortable and attractive to wear.

These were the three steps that took us from concept to completion. Since the solution already existed, the mission wasn’t to invent something new but rather to make that solution more reliable. 

Analyzing the soccer headgear market

Our first step was to look at the prevailing soccer headgear on the market. There weren’t many—Full90 headgear was the main option, the first being available in 2004. The Full90 and the other few options didn’t have any safety certifications and didn’t appear to use innovative materials that could significantly absorb impact forces. So that was our starting point—finding materials superior to those used in headgear at the time. 

Sourcing better materials for headgear

We then began the long process of testing various materials in our in-house facility to determine how well they could withstand impacts. That included the foams of competitors but also potential foams that weren’t used in the market but could be used in our headgear. Polyethylene and polyurethane were (and still are) commonly used materials in concussion headgear, but their ability to reduce impact and g-forces was limited. 

We had to expand our search and consider materials used for scenarios where head injuries carried a high fatality risk. That brought us to military applications. Soldiers require head protection from war hazards, such as blast impacts and projectiles. That led us to a wonder material—Zorbium foam (sold as Team Wendy™), which is built into the helmets worn by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines. 

Zorbium absorbs impact and disperses it on the surface, so the forces dissipate before transferring to the skull. We tested its performance when subjected to concussive forces and found it superior to all other materials studied. That made Zorbium our material of choice for the ExoShield.  

Designing more attractive headgear 

The next step was incorporating that material into the headgear, using a sensible design. We had to accomplish a balancing act of placing the material in areas that offered full protection without having to resort to a clunky design. 

The approach meant covering just the areas of the head most susceptible to concussive forces, leaving the rest open. If you look at our ExoShield, you’ll notice it looks more like a headband than a helmet. 

That design results from research insights and our experience with product aesthetics. In terms of research, we found that most head injuries occur around the sides of the head, not the top.

That allowed us to avoid a traditional helmet design where the head needs full coverage, in favor of a “headband” design. This means no issues with peripheral vision or a need for helmet straps. It’s sleeker and modern, not much different from once fashionable sweat headbands. It’s also more convenient to wear because it wraps around the head and is fastened with one velcro strap (not to mention the ears keep secure too). What’s left is a minimal, unobtrusive design that offers maximum protection to the areas that need it most. Nothing more, nothing less. 

The goal: A world-class piece of soccer headgear

Everything we put into our ExoShield, from R&D to its actual construction, has allowed us to build a product we can be proud of. It was rated the most effective piece of soccer headgear by the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab study, demonstrating an ability to reduce concussion risks by 84 percent. It’s the only soccer headguard with ASTM certification and is the go-to option for famous footy faces, such as Bethany Balcer. 

But there’s more to it all than just the accolades. It’s proof that our approach to designing the headguard works—it can protect players from concussions and their effects. We take brain injuries seriously and always will, because no soccer player should suffer later in life. Our approach to making the ExoShield is a testament to that. 

Are you looking for head protection in soccer? Get our ExoShield concussion headguard to reduce your risk of a soccer concussion.
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