Monday, August 11, 2008
Bryce returned to college on Tuesday to begin captain's practices and discover how much out of shape he really is. Just prior to departure he decided he needed new cleats, so Monday we went to the local soccer store, Stefan's, to see if he could get a pair. Stefan's earns about 25% of its gross income off of our family. If we don't come into the store for two or three weeks, the manager sends police to our home to check if we haven't all perished in a freak soccer accident. We know all the salespeople so well that we are in their family Christmas card photos. Naturally I exaggerate, but not by much.
So we popped into Stefan's for what I assumed would be about a fifteen minute visit. I had forgotten who I was with. Bryce brings indecision to an entirely new plane that surpasses even Brett Favre's inability to decide if he is retired or not. So I had plenty of time in the store to observe while Bryce pondered his cleat options. I enjoyed watching families come and go purchasing soccer gear for kids from five to fifteen. In all cases certain factors remained constant, bringing me full circle in my soccer experiences.
First factor is style. No matter the level of skill or dedication, players opt for style first when picking any article of soccer gear that the public can see. In addition I have discovered that shin guards have a coolness factor that has to be addressed. So even though shin guards are hidden beneath cool socks, they nonetheless need to be the necessary style since they will be seen by teammates before being inserted in the socks. An eight year old player whined at this mother that the cleats she wanted to buy were ""totally gross"" even though they were kangaroo leather and a great fit. Cleat manufacturers have picked up on this and have added gimmicks to boots in the hopes of snaring players who are looking for that style factor. Most of these gimmicks boost the price of cleats by a hefty percentage that parents pay as part of the kid surcharge assessed to us upon our offspring's birth.
Second factor is conformity. Style is okay so long as it is the right kind of style. Kids will be the first to buy the bright orange cleats, but only if their favorite soccer player wears them as well. Once one pair of orange cleats debuts at a game, the next game will host a half dozen pairs. That is until the dark green pair makes its appearance. And so it goes. Cutting edge works only as long as there are several making the cut.
Third factor is perceived advantage. Kids will purchase a certain ball or shorts or cleats based on some advantage that the gear offers them. The perceived advantages are also part of the gimmicks manufacturers use (see first factor). Right now one cleat has a compartment in the sole filled with sand. Supposedly the sand shifts when a player kicks the ball, giving the kick extra power. I think it looks like a Salvador Dali hour glass – aesthetically pleasing, but not really practical. One young lady nearly gagged when the salesperson suggested a good, solid, inexpensive soccer ball. "That one doesn't have the extended sweet spot," she huffed, pointing to a $150 ball with an actual bull's eye printed on it. Her mother said the same thing I did when the boys wanted official UEFA or World Cup balls topping $180, "You can lose a cheap ball just as easily as an expensive ball." This is why Stefan's only keeps one of every style of expensive ball in stock. Too many moms with common sense make for poor sales.
Fourth and final factor is need. When a player is faced with the immovable common sense of a parent, they will play the "need" card. "But I need a green shirt for practice." It just happens to be a $75 official Mexican National team jersey. "I need flat shoes for indoor practice." They just happen to be cool enough to also wear to school. Need is the trump card of player shopping. What parent can argue against need? While awaiting Bryce's decision on his cleats I heard the word need over a dozen times, and in every case the kids got what she or he "needed." Come to think of it, my trip to Stefan's began with Bryce telling me he "needed" new game cleats.
Did he finally decide between the Vapors or the Total 90s? He did. And I am proud to say that although style nearly won out, he ultimately decided based on the fit and the advantage the particular cleats offered him in his punting. But college or mini-soccer, players aren't really too different in how they select their gear…it's just that some take longer at it than others.