Amongst the myriad responsibilities we soccer coaches face at every training session, one of the most basic yet crucial jobs is to make sure every player has the correct equipment for playing football.
Fortunately the few items of essential gear are fundamentally the same no matter what age or gender your players, and irrespective of where and when you are training. But you will, inevitably, at some point have to check your player’s equipment or be able to answer questions from parents about the best options. One of the most common questions parents ask me is which football boots I would recommend for their child.
With this in mind, I have noted below some of the important aspects I ask them to consider.
The single most specialised piece of equipment for football are the boots your players will wear when playing and training. This is also likely to be the largest single expense for your player’s parents so it is important that your players get a pair of boots they will be comfortable wearing for long periods of time and which are versatile enough to adapt to the many different surfaces they will play on throughout a season.
Specialisation even expands to having different types of sole for different surface conditions.
Screw-in Studs: Variable-length, screw-in studs are used on soft grass pitches and for extra traction when the surface is wet. Smaller rubber studs can be bought which convert the boot into a hard ground boot, but whilst some players prefer the traditional 6-stud layout, these plates are being phased out for newer designs which spread the player’s weight more evenly across the foot and are generally much more comfortable.
Moulded Studs: More numerable, shorter plastic studs are used on harder surfaces (such as firm grass and 3G astro-turf). These boots are more comfortable than screw-in stud models and are generally suitable for any but the most slick of grass surfaces, making them a good all-around choice.
Moulded Blades: Designed to combine the grip of metal/screw-in studs with the comfort of moulded studs, ‘blades’ and other alternative patterns are an excellent versatile option. In particular, plastic blades can be worn in almost any environment (offering good grip on even wet surfaces and comfortable and safe enough to wear on astro-turf). Metal blades are great specialist soft-ground boots but are not suitable for harder surfaces.
N.B. A few years ago, it was suggested that moulded blades were to blame for a raft of player injuries. However, improved modern designs have been strenuously tested and there is no evidence to suggest they are unsafe. If your players buy from a recognised brand, their boots will be fine.
Astro-Turf and Indoor Soles: Other types of flat or dimpled soles are available for playing football indoors, on clay courts or on older astro-turf (the flat, often sandy type used for field hockey). These trainer shoes’ benefit is that they can be worn outside of soccer practices, but this is also their problem – they are not suitably adapted to be worn on grass pitches and should not be worn for any competitive football. Insist that your players wear studs, moulds or blades whilst playing on soft-ground.
Manufacturers have taken to releasing three different tiers of their top boots (for example see adidas’s Predator Absolion, Absolado and Absolute or Nike’s T90 Shoot, Strike and Laser) with the biggest cost differentiations based upon the materials used to build the boots. Below I discuss the most common materials and the relative merits of each.
Leather: Ideally your players will be able to pick-up some genuine leather boots. They are softer, adapt to player’s feet over time and provide exceptional feel for the ball. Unfortunately they are usually the most expensive type of boot to buy, the top models use the same materials as the professional’s boots and can cost an outrageous amount of money. However it is occasionally possible to find an an affordable pair.
Plastic: The cheapest model often bears only an aesthetic resemblance to the professional boot – they are usually made of plastic and any other features are merely cosmetic. Plastic boots stubbornly hold their shape, even when that bears no resemblance to the player’s foot. These boots often rub against the toes and heel giving some players blisters.
Synthetic: A third option is a synthetic material which is often used on mid-range boots. it is a polyurethane base but modified with micro-fibres to create a more flexible and softer material. These boots are only slightly less comfortable than leather boots and are often half the price. For the majority of players these boots are ideal.
I think the boot manufacturers make enough money as it is, so I don’t like to suggest the most expensive boots to my players’ parents. I usually recommend my parents buy the cheapest pair of boots they can find which aren’t made of plastic – the longevity and comfort of a pair of synthetic or leather boots is well worth the extra expense for a mid-range pair.
Nike and adidas dominate the football boot market in both Europe and the USA, in part thanks to innovative, high-quality and stylish boots, but in even larger part due to the vast marketing budgets of these companies which enables them to sponsor superstar players, purchase full-page ads in any magazine and plaster the television with images of their boots.
But when recommending boots to your players and parents also please consider an alternative company Kick 4 Change. They make very affordable synthetic leather boots with moulded soles which are ideal for junior players (e.g. velcro fastening) and more than 50% of the profit from every pair is donated to a grassroots sports club (or school of your choosing). This means that more money spent on equipment is reinvested in youth sports development and not in Ronaldo’s next Ferrari!