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Choosing shoes, shinguards and balls.

Every child enrolled in our winter programs, Rep, Academy or House League, receives a Spartacus T-shirt, shorts and socks. And each player in our outdoor season receives a full uniform. That leaves only a couple of items for mum and dad to supply. The following are some tips on how to choose appropriate equipment for young players — including how to avoid spending too much!

Make sure the shoe fits. Please, for your young player’s sake, do not buy shoes for him or her “to grow into” or “to get two years of use”. If you enrolled your child in dance classes, tennis, gymnastics, or any other sport where foot movement is important, you would want a good-fitting shoe. Soccer is no different. Yet every year coaches find kids with shoes a couple of sizes too big, often stuffed with paper at the toe. This is a false economy which not only interferes with the child’s game and progress as a player — it can also lead to injury.
As any soccer player will tell you, the “feel” for the ball is vital to successful passing and control. If a child is trying to learn to kick a ball with an extra inch of empty shoe sticking out in front, he or she is handicapped right from the start. Shoes that are too big also put the child at risk of turned or sprained ankles or painful blisters.
We all know how quickly kids’ feet grow, so it’s a good idea to have them wear two pairs of thick socks when shopping for soccer shoes. Wear both pairs in games at the start, and you can always take one pair off and keep a snug fit as their feet grow over the course of a season.

Pick a price range, and try on different brands. There’s really no sense to spending a lot of money on shoes for young players. Provided the shoe fits well, is made of leather (cheap vinyl shoes are too hot and don’t last), and has good support at the back of the heel, it will serve. When shopping, press your thumb into the back of a shoe’s heel. If it feels soft or collapses inwards easily, it will not give adequate support.
Look for the better shoes in the low-end price range of reputable brands such as Adidas, Puma, Nike, or Mitre. Try on different brands. Even though they are same size, two brands will not necessarily give the same fit. Some are better suited to narrower feet, for example.
The best idea is to shop at a soccer-wise store, such as SVP Sports, Metrosport, Sportchek or National. The salespeople are experienced in fitting young players and will give good advice.

Shinguards are a must! A few years back, FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, made shinguards mandatory equipment for players. With good reason. A kick in the shins is darned painful at any age! For the youngest age group, where kids hunt the ball in packs and often completely miss the ball with their kicks, a pair of good shin-guards is as essential as a helmet in hockey.
This is one item of equipment where you can expect to get several seasons of use, and it pays to buy the best you can afford. There are many different types available, ranging from simple, dense foam-rubber types, up to high-tech inflatables. Some styles have elastic stirrup straps…others have elasticized half-socks, with hard ankle caps. For 5 and 6-year-olds, the foam-rubber types are probably adequate, although they tend to be bulky. They do not provide good protection against a strong 7-year-old’s kick, however, and we strongly recommend that players age 7 and up wear one of the resilient plastic types that conform to the shape of the leg.

Selecting a soccer ball. If your child loves to play, and you’d like to see him or her develop as a player, they need a ball. It doesn’t have to be an expensive soccer ball. Most of us who grew up in other lands and other times learned the game with any ball we could find — tennis balls, or even balls made of old socks and tape. Most sports stores carry rubber or moulded practice balls that are fine for home practice and can survive being kicked around on asphalt or kicked against a wall.
If you do buy a real soccer ball, remember that the full-size ball is proportioned for adults. To a little guy, a Size 5 ball is like a beachball to a man. Up to age 8 or 9, a Size 3 ball is ideal… from 9 to 12, a size 4. There’s little point in spending a lot of money for a top-of-line brand-name ball. Balls do get lost, or run over in the driveway, and a fancy name or flashy design adds nothing to the function of the ball. So long as it will hold its air and can stand a lot of use, an inexpensive ball will be fine for your budding Pel√©.
One last tip… write your child’s name on the ball, clearly, in a couple of places, in indelible ink. That way it’s less likely to go home with someone else.

Bryan L. Pinn
Head Coach, Spartacus SC,
Team Coach, Spartacus 89s
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