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An athletic cup may be one of the most important pieces of safety equipment your son can use. Here’s what you need to know.

Jersey? Check. Helmet? Check. Athletic cup? If you’re a parent of a young male athlete, that last one may be a head-scratcher.

An athletic cup is a device used to protect against groin injuries from contact sports. It guards against hits and kicks or collisions with a ball or player’s helmet. And it’s often overlooked — many athletes choose not to use it. Even if your son only goes in for a few minutes of play, don’t skip the cup.

“Just like a helmet, an athletic cup is a critical piece of gear,” says Dr. Jacob Baber, a urologist at Geisinger.

Protection starts early

For some activities, like riding a bike or swimming, wearing a cup isn’t necessary. But playing high-impact sports (think basketball, soccer, baseball and lacrosse) puts athletes at risk for a groin injury. Even the smallest players can benefit from the added protection that wearing a cup offers.

So, how young is too young to start wearing one? “As soon as your son starts playing sports, he should wear a cup,” Dr. Baber says.

Don’t get caught without one

When your son is on the field, run-ins with a loose ball or unintentional contact with another player happen. Those run-ins can put your son at risk of a hit to the crotch.

That risk increases as your son gets older. “Once boys hit puberty, their testicles grow, and the scrotum drops. This makes them more likely to have a groin injury,” says Dr. Baber.

Injuries can range from mild bruising and swelling to more serious things like:

  • Groin strains or sprains
  • Inguinal hernias
  • Sports hernias
  • Testicular torsion

Your son can reduce the risk of a groin injury by putting on a cup before heading onto the field.

To get him used to the idea of using a cup, keep the lines of communication open.

“Talk with their coaches and doctor to reinforce the importance of using an athletic cup whenever they play sports,” says Dr. Baber.

What to look for

If he doesn’t own a cup, find one online or at your local sporting goods store.

Not sure where to start? Dr. Baber suggests, “Look for cups that are strong enough to protect the groin while being comfortable.”

When he’s ready to go shopping, these tips will help your son find the right one.

Select a cup based on age and size. Some athletes find that wearing a cup is uncomfortable. That’s why finding the right size is key. Athletic cups are available for most age groups, starting from age 4 up to adults. For smaller children (4’6” and up to 75 lbs.), consider a cup that’s 1 ¾” deep. Kids 5’6” and 110 lbs. may be most comfortable in a cup that’s 2” deep. Older boys may want to consider a deeper cup, up to 2 ½”. After you find the right size, check for fit. “A properly sized cup should fit comfortably around the groin area and shouldn’t touch the testicles,” says Dr. Baber.

If the cup shifts or feels too loose, choose a different size.

Choose a material. Cups used to be made out of metal. They may have offered good protection, but they probably weren’t very comfortable. Your athlete will breathe a sigh of relief knowing they can choose cups made from:

  • Soft or hard plastic
  • Carbon fiber
  • Fabric

For added comfort, consider a model with gel padding around the edges. And, for easier cleaning, look for one that’s machine washable.

Consider durability. The type of cup an athlete needs depends on the kind of hits he’ll take. Football, for example, is a higher impact sport than wrestling, so a young quarterback might need something sturdier than a wrestler would.

Don’t forget an athletic supporter.  After finding the right cup, you’ll need to look for a supporter to hold it in place. Pick from traditional athletic supporters (also called jockstraps), impact shorts or compression shorts. So, how to wear a cup? To put the cup in, slide it into the pocket on the front of the supporter with the narrow end facing down. Once it’s in place, adjust until it fits comfortably over the penis and testicles.

When your son has the gear he needs, he can focus on playing his best. So the next time he’s getting his uniform ready, make sure his gear includes a cup.

Next steps: 

Meet Jacob Baber, MD

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