Monday, March 14, 2011
Spring soccer begins soon if it hasn't already started in your neighborhood. Even the MLS kicks off this week. So, after the doldrums of winter, the time has come to pull out that soccer gear and discover what fits and what doesn't. With kids you never know until you try. Those expensive cleats that they wore four months ago may now be two sizes too small. Those fancy practice shorts now fit them like something Larry Bird would have worn in 1981 when players didn't mind showing off their thighs. And turning the house upside down still only reveals one shin guard. So, it's time to go shopping.
Your options for purchasing soccer gear now rival any other sports options. Not too long ago, the big box sports stores had soccer sections that looked like an afterthought. Now you can find just about anything you need, especially for the youth player. Online options abound that offer everything from the basics to the most expensive international gear. But I'm pretty loyal to my local independent soccer store, Stefan's, because the staff is knowledgeable both about gear and its customers. I know I'll get the best advice on cleats and other gear. They may not have the rock bottom bargains of the internet or the big boxes, but my boys were always fitted well which meant fewer blisters and better foot control. Plus, if anything went amiss I knew they would help make it right.
Because soccer gear is such a big business internationally, the marketing by the manufacturers gets pretty intense, which is not lost on dedicated youth players. No matter the occasion, these giants create launch dates for new cleats, uniforms, and outer wear. Along with their tempting images of soccer heroes striking the ball with sweat flying and muscles rippling, these promotions come with hefty price tags. The ads promise "faster," "higher," "smarter," and "sharper." Black cleats barely exist for these titans; they are orange, yellow, lime green, red. You can easily spend over $200 for a pair of these "replica" youth cleats for your son or daughter. Some of us have experienced that they will grow out of them in just months thanks to that unforeseen growth spurt. It's difficult to fight the urge, especially when a kid or two shows up at practice streaking down the field in her neon blue cleats. Make sure you set your budget and your limits before you begin looking for your gear so you can resist the doe-eyed pleas for the electric cleats.
Our family's biggest expense every year seemed to be shin guards. The boys managed to leave one or both guards on the bench or on the field. We orphaned dozens of shin guards until I hit on a plan to stem the madness. Most players get pretty particular about their shin guards – they have to be the right size, shape, color, padding, and weight. So once the boys located their perfect pair, they were told that was it for a year. If the shin guards got separated, lost, destroyed, or wandered off, they had to use the cheap pairs I purchased at the same time. I'd pick up two additional pairs that cost no more than $10 each and kept them in my soccer box in the back of the car. Once the only options for shin protection became either their perfect pair or some cheap, embarrassing pair, they seemed to be able to collect their shin guards and store them away after every game!
I also learned quickly that I have no memory when it comes to soccer purchases and that my kids believe they have perfect memory. So this weakness has been exploited on a regular basis. I have been told dozens of times that my kids have had the same pair of cleats or warm-ups for "at least a year" and short of digging through my credit card receipts I have no way of countering. However, with the convenience of cell phones I now have the perfect response. I just take a picture of every purchase. Then with a quick scroll I can locate the exact date AND time that the item entered our home. I've discovered that "at least a year" actually translates to "about three months." This one technique has saved countless arguments while sitting in the soccer store clinging to a pair of must have cleats when a perfectly good pair sits at home.
Since kids outgrow gear so quickly, most of it remains gently used. If you can hand it down, then bravo to you. But usually that won't work. So consider finding a spot to donate that gear. U.S. Soccer Foundation has the Passback program (passback.org) which usually collects through local state soccer associations. Sports Gift (sportsgift.org) collects gear from all sports for both local and international organizations. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent DePaul are always grateful for good sports equipment since the demand is huge for those items. If your team is willing, donating their uniforms as a unit will help provide for teams both in the states and abroad.
Once you have all the gear collected, you now have to maintain it. That's not always easy. Spring soccer means rain, mud, and even snow. That gear takes a beating and then transfers the elements into your car on the trip home. There's nothing like an errant sock pressed under the seat against the heat vent to provide fumes that even a Hazmat team fears. I have long advocated the use of plastic bags to help keep mud and wet in their place. I also believe in recycling, so you can collect those grocery fruit and vegetable bags and shopping bags to use in your efforts to control filth and odors. I like to cover my car floors with the 33 gallon garbage bags to contain the dirt. These can be removed, shaken out, and even hosed down to use again. Use smaller bags to collect the cleats, uniforms, socks, and even shin guards before they have a chance to contaminate the car or the soccer bag. In fact, I always keep everything in bags so even the clean is sealed.
I suggest keeping all soccer related clothing and gear in one spot. I bought a cheap five drawer dresser at Target and set it in the garage. One drawer holds uniforms and warm-ups, one holds gloves, hats, socks and undergarments, one holds peripheral gear like shin guards, goalie gloves and head bands, and two hold cleats. I hung a rack with hooks over the door to hold jackets. They set their soccer bags on top of the dresser and so it's really easy to load up the bags before a game. The added bonus of being already in the garage helps insure we don't forget much before a game. When I wash the uniforms I put them in the drawer. The boys clean off their cleats and put them in the drawer. It becomes an easy and helpful set of routines that prevent most, but not all last minute panics. It also helps at the end of one season to insure that several months later at the beginning of the next season we know where to locate everything. Once the boys expanded to club, high school, and indoor soccer teams we expanded to two dressers to accommodate all the additional uniforms.
Getting new soccer clothes and gear can help boost enthusiasm for the game. Even just adding a new pair of socks can bring enough pizzazz to a new season to give it extra fun. Keep all the purchases at a reasonable cost. Consider one special item each season if you have the money – a jacket, a backpack, or a professional jersey. But these aren't necessary to playing the game, so don't feel obligated to spend more than you can afford just to keep up with the soccer Joneses. Once they get out onto the field and score a goal or make a great pass or defend successfully against a rush, they'll be so happy to be playing it won't matter what you did or didn't spend.