We’ve digested our Thanksgiving meal and survived Black Friday. Hanukkah is nearly over and Christmas and Kwanza are yet to come. Over the course of each year I catalog items I run across that can improve our soccer experience. Some of these products might make a great holiday or birthday gift idea and some you may find you just can’t live without once you learn of them. In any case, I make them available for you to consider adding to your soccer accoutrements. A small disclaimer needs to be made as well. These selections are my suggestions so no endorsement by the US Youth Soccer Association should be implied or expected.
Let’s start with apparel. Gloves are a must have for those cold, windy games. I like the $1 one-size-fits-all gloves I can purchase at Walgreens or CVS pharmacies. On the other hand, sometimes a really nice warm pair of gloves is worth the extra expense. I found an amazing pair of thermal wool gloves with finger grips that run about $15 a pair. These are actually biking gloves made by DeFeet and are called Handskins Glove LG
. They come in six sizes and a huge variety of shades so you can match any team colors. "Runners World" picked Nike’s Thermal Fleece Running Gloves
as the coziest, and according to their report, these gloves feel like you’re "pulling on a fleece sweatshirt for [y]our hands." They come in a variety of sizes for both men and women. Nike offers the gloves along with a polar fleece hat for $20 in either Royal Blue or Black. You can also warm up with a soccer scarf. While you might purchase a popular professional team’s scarf, you could consider a generic scarf which could even be personalized. Zazzle.com has hundreds of scarves
available in the range of $20 to $30. My favorite is the scarf which says "Yes, I’m American. Yes, I Love Soccer." Kids naturally want the warm-ups which have their team colors and logos, but these can get really expensive only to be grown out of or becoming obsolete when a player switches clubs. East Bay offers generic warm-up jackets and pants
in a variety of colors for $16 each which works out to about 50% off the price of Nike or adidas warm up sets. Once on the website, use the sort function to set up the price from low to high to find the inexpensive warm ups. Finally socks can end up costing a ridiculous amount of money. Epic Sports offers an alternative to $15 adidas socks with their Twin City Euro Trio socks
. These come in a large variety of colors and stripe color combinations, which should closely mirror whatever socks the club expects and at the bargain price of $4-$7. For socks similar to Nike with all the colors but without the telltale swoosh, you could opt for Augusta socks
at $3.50 a pair, which come in a variety of 14 colors.
If you and/or your player like to take early dawn or dusk runs, there are great gadgets to keep the jog safe by easily identifying you to drivers. Roadrunner Sports offers Nathan Lightspur
, which attaches to the heel of your running shoes and costs around $20 for a pair. Headlamps are great for runners, guiding you around when the power goes out, or playing hide and seek outdoors with the kids. However most headlamps are very expensive. Eastern Mountain Sports sells the Petzl Tikka2 Headlamp
for $24, making it inexpensive enough to outfit the entire family. Pelican sells a great clip on mini-flasher
(Unit 2130C) which can be seen up to ½ mile away on a clear night. Its batteries provide 130 hours of illumination. The price varies but the best deal I found was from Westside Wholesale for $8.50. Pricier but rating high on the gadget creativity scale are Knuckle Lights
. These devices can be best described as peaceful, life-saving, illuminated brass knuckles. They come in silver, blue, pink, or yellow for $40.
Parents need sideline gear almost as much as kids need soccer gear. Getting all the snacks, dry clothes, blankets, and sun screen to the fields can be done in style with a soccer-specific bag
. Zazzle recommends thousands of bags, some of which can be personalized. These included backpacks, canvas totes, messenger bags, and cosmetic bags. Some of the options cost in the hundreds of dollars, but you can sort by price and type using the options on the left hand margin. Fathers might want to sport a sharp soccer tie
either to work on game day or to the game itself. Amazon has a good mix of ties, but you’ll have to scroll past the college team ties as you search. Zazzle has over 7,000 neckties
, so you’ll need to do some search refining to make it doable. The majority of the ties are under $50. If you want a great soccer blanket you can spend up to $70, but The Find has gathered hundreds of fleece throws
from a variety of vendors that run under $30. Use the price bar on the right hand margin to set your limits from $0 to $50. Where will you sit to cover yourself with the blanket? It depends on if you need a chair or a bleacher seat
. For chairs you have dozens of choices: heated chairs, covered chairs, lounge chairs, double chairs, benches, and the stand-by regular folding chair. Checking out "The Find" will bring you plenty of options. Again, use the price bar and any of the refining search options to find what you want at a price you can afford. My favorite bleacher seat
is a $20 option which only weighs one pound, has insulated padding on the seat, and adjustable straps.
As you travel to far-flung games and tournaments, how do you keep everyone entertained and find your way there? Here’s where some wonderful gadgets come to save the day. In this age of DS Nintendo and PSP, not to mention DVD players and cell phones, it’s difficult to get everyone to interact. But there are options that get noses out of screens, let the driver participate as well, and take some time and miles off the journey, if only symbolically. Rand McNally, who doesn’t sell nearly as many paper maps as it once did, had turned to tech to create a CD called Story Starters
. Using prompts on the CD, travelers must fill in the blanks, use their own experience to create a story, and use memory to repeat some of the stories. I hate the travel variety of popular games since they usually have lots of parts and leave the driver out of the fun, so I like to bring along games that have few parts to be lost and let everyone participate. You just don’t want anything too childish or too difficult depending on your passengers. University Games has a card deck for a scavenger hunt
. You can purchase it at Are You Game for $9. Keeping things neat and clean in the backseat while providing an area to do art work, homework, enjoy a meal, or set a portable DVD can be solved with Kurgo’s Auto Tray Table
for $20. It hangs over the back of the front seats and folds out of the way when not in use. It has a cup holder, but it is very shallow and drinks may tip and spill on a bumpy or twisty ride, so I would stick to the in-car cup holders. Navigation devices can get very expensive with lots of bells and whistles, which don’t necessarily help you get from point A to point B. Trusting the GPS on your phone can be problematic and eat up your phone battery life. Amazon provides the option to select used equipment for close to 2/3 off the new price. Look up the GPS device
you want – the left hand margin lets you select screen size and brand name. Magellan
has a website where they sell refurbished units many for under $60. The stock changes daily, so if you don’t find what you want, just wait 24 hours. One hint: Check that your unit comes with free lifetime maps downloads, otherwise the cost of getting updates may make the unit very expensive over the course of its life (and updates are so necessary given the amount of road construction across the US). Finally charging all those electronic gadgets you collect and seem to need on every trip such as phones, DVD players, game consoles, and things like warmers, you need access and ways to charge and run these items in your car. Some cars come with more than one cigarette lighter and some even come with plugs, but most of us have a lighter in the front seats and one in the back seats. Radio Shack sells an adaptor
that takes one lighter socket to three. You can also find converters that turn your cigarette lighter into an actual plug. For a DC to AC adaptor with two USB ports (one 1A and one 2.1A) you can purchase Bestek’s 75 watt power converter
for $17 from Amazon.
Getting your gadget fix can also feed your soccer fix. These are just a few of the products out there to improve your soccer experience and provide some good gift ideas at the same time. Remember to buy from reputable dealers, who may be a bit more expensive, but will be easier to deal with should you have a problem with a product or find you want to return the item for any reason. This is also a great time of the year for some good deals and free shipping. Be sure you consider shipping costs in comparing prices. Use some of the retailer search engines like Find It, Shopzilla, and Price Grabber to find multiple vendors for the products you want to purchase. And definitely use customer reviews as much as possible to help you figure out if a product is right for you and your family. Getting a new gadget or two can be fun, almost as fun as watching your child’s team win a game.