Headgear typically consists of some type of cushioned barrier over the wrestler’s ears, with straps and fasteners to hold it in place during practice and competition.
Headgear is generally required for school wrestling teams at all levels - elementary, junior high, and high school. Collegiate wrestling and youth wrestling leagues additionally have restrictions mandating the use of protective ear covering.
Most wrestling headgear doesn’t actually protect the entire head, but focuses on preventing injury and deformities to the ear - specifically, cauliflower ear.
Cauliflower ear doesn’t heal, and can lead to unsightly and permanent scar tissue.
The following factors should be considered when looking for wrestling headgear.
If that question makes you hungry, stay on task. We’re talking about wrestling gear, not tacos.
The main component of headgear (or ear guards, as they are sometimes called) is a cup-shaped shell that goes over the outside of the ear. This shell protects the fragile tissue of the ear from impacts and friction burns.
A hard shell option will be made of hard plastic with some foam padding around the area against the side of the head. A soft shell will be made of softer material, usually man-made, and will be more flexible.
Hard shell options are the most common, as they are more durable and have more impact protection than softer options. They also provide less obstruction to hearing during the match - important if the wrestler is being coached while wrestling.
Regardless of the material used to cover the ear, the headgear will have a strapping system that goes around the head to hold it in place.
The good thing about modern headgear is that it is highly adjustable, and contains enough material in the strap to accommodate larger heads. Different headgear will have different adjusting options, but all are relatively easy to make an initial fit as well as on the fly adjustments.
Most headgear brands will offer at least one youth option - head sizes vary, but in general for children under ten you’ll want to choose a youth option.
It is important to make sure the headgear fits snugly. During the heat of the match, there will be a lot of friction and pressure against the headgear and straps. Headgear that comes off of slides out of place (potentially covering the eyes) is definitely an experience you’ll want to avoid.
Some headgear options include a chin cup and strap - this serves to anchor the headgear under the chin to keep it from sliding. The cup also provides some level of protection for the chin against abrasions and mat burn.
Once you’ve chosen the type of headgear that you’d like to try, you will have a wide range of options for colors - including custom combinations - to match your particular style or your team’s colors. The Cliff Keen Signature - arguably the most popular brand of wrestling headgear - comes in a wide variety of basic and custom colors.
Although generally not as big of an investment as your singlet or your shoes, you’ll still want to take care of headgear to ensure that it lasts as long as possible.
Sweat and moisture will be the biggest enemy, so making sure the headgear dries thoroughly between uses will go a long way. Many wrestlers will attach headgear to the outside of their bag to let it air dry after a match.
If the headgear does start to get a little funky, you can get a damp washcloth and wipe it down with some warm soapy water.
In many locations, there will be restrictions regarding long hair. In these cases wrestlers can choose a “hair cover,” sometimes called a “slicker” that is either worn over the hair and under the headgear, or in some cases attaches directly to the headgear.
This cover or cap keeps long hair under control and allows wrestlers to comply with these rules.
There is one other product - the Cliff Keen Cross Face - that is not designed to protect the ears, but rather the bones and structure of the face.
This device covers the entire face with protective foam and has holes for the eyes and mouth. Generally worn by wrestlers recovering from some type of facial injury, the Cross Face has straps to connect to any Cliff Keen headgear to make one protective unit.