Monday, November 30, 2015
Today is Cyber Monday, which followed Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, all of which precede a mad rush to find the perfect gifts for the holidays. This season, gift choices are greater than ever though many involve AA batteries or a charger and can eat up your shopping budget. Trying to find something for our youth soccer players that won’t break the bank can be a frustrating search. Obviously every kid would love to get his or her favorite player’s jersey, but most start at over $75 and many can run much higher. If you’re on a budget that can be excessive. One trick is to buy the practice jersey, which for the youngest players will probably work, but as they grow older they get wise to the difference between practice, away, and home jerseys, which move from maybe affordable to holy cow. You also may not be able to get away with buying last season’s jerseys on Ebay for less because kids know what’s current.
Therefore, I have spent many a holiday shopping season uncovering and purchasing some more off-beat soccer choices that might make kids nearly as happy as an official jersey. I’ve had some hits, plenty of misses, and a few bull’s eyes. So here are my suggestions that parents can seek out while sticking to a budget.
Soccer scarves have been a huge hit because they can be worn, brought to games as banners, and hung in rooms for decoration. Most scarves can be found for $25 or less and celebrate any number of teams and nations. WorldSoccerShop.com has a huge variety of scarves from club, national and college teams. If you really want to make a splash, there are several websites that offer the opportunity to create your own scarf design. You could create one for a high school, youth club team, or home town. These generally have minimum orders so you’ll do better to get a team together to buy them. Bryce designed a scarf for his high school soccer squad, sold 100 of them, and made $350 to help defray the cost of new goal nets for the school. So you could accomplish both gifting and fundraising with one order. Ruffneckscarves.com are the official scarf manufacturer for MLS, NCAA, USSF, and USL, but they also will do custom orders. Another great clothing item is t-shirts. Some soccer stores can personalize these shirts with names and numbers for a minimal cost. So even though they aren’t an official jersey, they give the youth player a chance to display his or her loyalties. Scores of designs are sold for under $30 on sites such as Soccer.com. Besides t-shirts for players, there are novelty shirts for parents and grandparents who want to show their support of their youth players. You can create customized shirts at sites such as Logosoftware.com, where a shirt can be created for under $20. Lanyards to hold those player passes are a great gift for coaches and team managers. Most choices run from $4 to $10. Attach a 1.5-inch book ring you can get at any office supply store so the passes can be sorted through and removed quickly during those short substitutions while staying secure.
Kids need to tote their gear, but many of the bags offered by the official gear sponsors can run you more than $100. Therefore, you should consider customizing a bag at Logosoftware.com. There’s a huge assortment of styles, colors and sizes, with the most expensive still under $50. I did a baseball bag for my grandson last Christmas, which was a huge hit. I was able to upload his team’s logo, and the site had a simple way to design script, even adding his name. The bag was very sturdy and came in his team colors. There are also backpacks and very inexpensive drawstring bags that can be customized. Kids need to be encouraged to stay hydrated, so a cool water bottle can be both a wonderful inducement and a special gift. Make sure that the bottle opens wide enough to insert ice if you want to be able to and that it is easy to clean. Kids love the Gatorade bottles and you can get two for $12 on Amazon, although they are not insulated. Thermos makes a bottle which is also not insulated but keeps track of your fluid in-take. It has a pop-up spout, comes in seven different colors for $12-$15 and goes in the dishwasher. (amazon.com/Thermos-Nissan-Intak-Hydration-Bottle/dp/B001EGGQB6/ref=sr_1_57?s=sports-and-fitness&ie=UTF8&qid=1448493413&sr=1-57).
The holy grail of soccer games remains FIFA 16, which sells for around $50. It comes in several platforms, so it can be found for nearly every gaming system. You could also probably get by with FIFA 15, which sells for $35. My sons played this game nearly as much as they played actual soccer. It taught them great strategy, a love for the game, a chance to try out tactics with no adverse consequences. However, it is really for older players. When they were younger they ate up Backyard Soccer. It hasn’t been updated in several years, but it’s a great choice to give young players the gaming experience with an easier to operate program and fun cartoon graphics. These run around $15 and even have an MLS edition. Scene It Sports – Powered by ESPN, isn’t soccer-specific but provides good family fun by using a DVD to set up questions and a game board to move your player. It’s sold for around $15, but may be difficult to find. Finally, there are dozens of apps for IPhone and Android which cover soccer trivia. My favorite for younger players is the Football Logo Quiz Plus, which is free and tests players on their knowledge of various world-wide club and national teams. Finally there’s that stand-by Foosball game, which is even the subject of a new animated movie “Underdogs.” You can buy a table top version rather than a full stand-alone game for prices as low as $17, but a good-sized one will run around $50. There’s a deluxe version from GoGlory (www.goglorysports.com/) for $100, which is quite a bit of money but provides a great option to the $300 to $700 stand alones if you would love one of these games for your family playroom. You can purchase it at Amazon.com and it will arrive approximately a week after ordering.
My kids love getting movie passes in their stockings. Christmas is a time of great movie releases, so you might consider taking the family to the multiplex, or you could just give the kids some passes to use as they would like. Most theaters have great promotions this time of year giving huge discounts and even offering “concession dollars.” Be sure to read the small print since some passes won’t work for certain releases or 3D movies. Get tickets to a local soccer match or plan a family vacation around a soccer game. Orlando now has a professional MLS team, so a trip to Disney World and Universal could also include a visit to a match. How about taking the family on a soccer golf outing? Here in Wisconsin the courses have closed for the season, but you can still set up the adventure for when the thaw begins. The game is a cross between golf and soccer, where you kick the ball around a course and into a basket or hole. You could form teams or do it as a birthday party. It’s great exercise and adds a new dimension to the sport. There are some gifts that can also help improve ball handling skills while providing fun. Soccer “tennis” nets can be easily stored and set up. Olympia Sports has a net for under $45, but you can also buy a roll of netting and attach to poles for a less expensive alternative. These sets sit anywhere from 6 inches to a foot high and the object is to kick the ball over the net to an opponent who returns it until someone misses. It develops stronger ball handling, accurate kicking, and speed of pursuit. Plus it can be a fun family bonding experience getting everyone into the game.
Rounding out the soccer player gift list are a few books to inspire and teach players during the slow off-season that comes in winter. Youngest players will appreciate “Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends,” which tells the stories of popular players’ childhoods, giving kids some inspiration for their own development. Mia Hamm authored “Winners Never Quit,” a great book for the young female (even male) player. Any book from Matt Christopher is an excellent choice for ‘Tweens. Matt weaves in moral and life lessons with some engaging stories about playing the game. Given the recent controversy over Syrian refugees the book “Outcasts United: The Story of a Refuge Soccer Team That Changed a Town” by Warren St. John tells the inspirational story of how soccer eventually heals animosities and distrust when a Georgia town was designated a refugee center. Biographies of kids’ soccer heroes are plentiful and at many different reading levels. Players who are passionate about the game and regularly tune in to NBC’s broadcasts of English Premier League games might enjoy “The Game of Our Lives. The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain” by David Goldblatt which gives a detailed history of the league and its impact on the social, economic, and political arenas. I highly recommend DK Publishing for any of their books on sports. These are affordable and filled with bright, complex photos, graphics, and fact sheets. A few titles I suggest are “Soccer” ($15), “Essential Soccer Skills” ($14), “The Soccer Book” ($14), “Sports Math” series which includes decimals, percentages, and fractions (for the PC), and DK Readers for beginners through 5th grade such as “Soccer School” and “Let’s Play Soccer” ($4). All these books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but can be found or ordered through your local, neighborhood bookstore as well.
Soccer has gained so much in popularity that many retailers have been stocking scores of amazing soccer-related merchandize. A few web sites with some quirky, but fun options are CafePress.com, Zazzle.com, and etsy.com. I can’t detail all the notepads, key rings, and shoelaces to name just a few, but with some searching, you should be able to find any number of special soccer gifts for your players and your family that fit within your budget and bring delight to the recipient.