Choosing the Right Shinguard
Unfortunately, there is no easy way for parents to know how much protection a shinguard offers. FIFA, soccer’s world governing organization, is working on standards, so for now you’ll have to rely on your judgment. Billy Lalor, a buyer of shinguards for Eurosport, a soccer equipment catalog, offers this advice: "Don’t skimp on price." The degree of protection is pretty much in direct proportion to the amount you pay. He adds that new technologies offer more protection than older designs, and that you should expect to pay at least $15 for a good pair of shinguards.
Lalor says inexpensive shinguards are more suitable for very young players for whom protection isn’t as much of a concern as it is for older players, who can break a bone with a misplaced kick. Many of these low-end guards rely on "wands," or plastic stiffeners, that are sewn into the guard. They don’t offer the same protection as a guard with a hard shell but may be fine for 6- and 7-year-olds. Under no circumstances should a child 10 years or older be permitted to wear a younger child’s light-duty shinguard.
For younger players, shinguards that include ankle protection are a good choice. You don’t want one or two kicks to the ankle to discourage a budding soccer star. It’s also important for younger players to have guards that fit comfortably and are easy to put on. For the very young player, shinguards are part of the excitement of playing "real" soccer. If those guards are cumbersome or if they don’t stay in place, that excitement will wear off quickly - and your child may not want to wear them.
As your youngster moves up in youth soccer’s ranks, he will need a shinguard that delivers higher performance. That translates to light weight (less than 5 ounces), comfort and protection. There are many technologies designed to deliver higher performance, including moldable layers of fiberglass (OSi), gel and air-cushioning systems. Beware of high-tech sounding components, such as Dupont’s Kevlar (known for its use in bullet-proof vests). The very small amounts of Kevlar fiber used in shinguards does nothing to strengthen the product. According to knowledgeable sources, the use of Kevlar in shinguards is simply a marketing ploy.
High-performance guards designed with attached (or detachable) ankle guards offer Achilles tendon and forefoot padding, and often include cups or disks that protect the bones at either side of the ankle. Other high-performance shinguards, such as most OSi products, don’t offer built-in ankle protection. Players who prefer these guards can buy padded ankle guards that are sold separately or as part of a package.
For both younger and older players, it’s important that shinguards stay in place. The old-fashioned way of securing shinguards - still preferred by some players - is athletic tape. But most shinguards come with straps and Velcro closures that do the job. Shinguards with attached ankle protectors stay in place better than others because they attach to the leg in two places, at the foot with a stirrup and at the calf with a top strap. For guards without ankle protectors, the OSi compression sleeve is the best way to hold the shinguard to the leg. Compression sleeves are elastic tubes that can be purchased separately and used with any guard. Their maker, Parker Athletic, claims that the sleeves not only keep guards from slipping but also improve blood circulation to muscles, reducing the lactic acid build-up that leads to cramps and fatigue.
Shinguard Shoppers Checklist
Reprinted with permission from SoccerJR magazine, copyright 2001