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When Michael Jordan said, “It’s not about the shoes; it’s what you do in them,” a parent cringed at the thought. While an athlete’s determination and perseverance are necessary to stay on top of the game, having the right gear for their sport can make all the difference.
In the U.S. alone, kids and teens experience 3.5 million injuries a year participating in sports—the most common injuries being sprains and strains. Of course, a myriad of factors can cause these accidents, but equipping your child with the right sports gear can help protect them from trouble.
In this article, learn exactly what your little athlete needs, different safety and quality standards for sports gear, and easy ways to keep their gear in tip-top shape. Let’s dive in!
Different sports require specific gear to keep your child safe. Aside from safety, the right sports gear can significantly level up their performance while keeping them comfortable throughout. Learn how to suit them up for their specific sport correctly.
Soccer requires minimal equipment but demands precision and agility. Essential gear for young soccer players includes:
Soccer Cleats - these shoes provide grip and stability on the field
Soccer Sock - designed to hold shin guards in place
Shin Guards - protect the shins from impact
Soccer Ball - sized appropriately for the child's age
Jersey and Shorts - comfortable, moisture-wicking attire
Goalkeeper Gear (if applicable) - gloves, padded shorts, and a jersey for goalkeepers.
America's favorite pastimes, baseball and softball, require specific equipment to excel. Essential gear includes:
Bat - sized according to the child's age and league regulations
Glove - a well-fitted glove for fielding and catching
Baseball/Softball - official size and weight for the respective sport
Batting Helmet - with faceguard for safety
Cleat - for traction on the field
Protective Cup (for boys) - ensures safety during play
Jersey and Pants - typically worn with a team uniform
Basketball is all about agility, speed, and skill. The essential gear for young basketball players includes:
Basketball Shoes - high-quality sneakers with good ankle support
Basketball - appropriate size for the child's age and gender
Jersey and Shorts - comfortable and breathable attire
Mouthguard - protects teeth during intense play
Tennis is a sport of precision and endurance. Essential gear includes:
Tennis Racket - sized appropriately for the child
Tennis Balls - quality tennis balls for practice and matches
Tennis Shoes - non-marking soles for court safety
Comfortable Athletic Attire - breathable clothing for movement
Swimming relies on skill and water safety. Essential gear for young swimmers includes:
Swimsuit - comfortable, snug-fitting swimsuit
Goggles - to protect eyes and improve visibility
Swim Cap (optional) - keeps hair in place and reduces chlorine on the scalp
Ear Plugs and Nose Clips (optional) - for those with sensitivity
Towel and Bag - for post-swim comfort and convenience
Note that some sports, such as martial arts or ice hockey, may require more specialized gear. Always check with your child's coach or league for specific gear recommendations and regulations to properly prepare your young athlete for their chosen sport.
Ill-fitting gear can pose significant safety risks. For instance, a helmet that doesn't fit snugly can't provide adequate protection during high-impact activities like football or cycling. Similarly, shoes that are too tight may cause blisters and discomfort, leading to distraction and potential injury.
Properly fitted gear impacts performance. Shoes that fit well provide better traction and support, improving stability and agility. A well-fitted racket or bat allows for better control and power in sports like tennis or baseball. When gear fits correctly, it allows young athletes to focus on honing their skills rather than battling discomfort or limitations.
Measure and consult. Begin by measuring your child's size for specific gear items, such as helmets or shoes. Consult size charts provided by manufacturers and sports equipment stores for guidance.
Try before you buy. Whenever possible, have your child try on gear in-store so they can assess comfort and fit firsthand. Ensure the retailer has a clear return or exchange policy for online purchases.
Pay special attention to footwear. Ensure there's enough room for toes to wiggle but not so much space that the foot slides inside. Consider the type of socks your child will wear during play, which can impact the fit.
Helmets should sit snugly on the head without being too tight. Adjust straps and padding to achieve a secure fit. Make sure the helmet covers the forehead adequately and doesn't obstruct vision.
Ensure protective pads and guards fit securely. Shin guards, elbow pads, and knee pads should not restrict movement. Straps and closures should be snug but not overly tight.
Ensure that jerseys and shorts/pants are the right size. Clothing too loose can be a hindrance, while overly tight attire can restrict movement.
Certain standards and regulations exist for sports gear manufacturers and organizations. Sports gear that complies with these safety standards is designed to reduce the risk of injuries. Knowing and adhering to these standards can help protect children from serious accidents and injuries on the field.
Each country has its own national safety standards for sports gear developed by government agencies, sports organizations, and other stakeholders. In the United States, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) sets safety standards and certifications for a wide range of sports gear and athletic equipment.
Aside from national safety standards, international organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have also developed safety standards for sports gear.
Safety symbols are used across the globe to identify sports gear that meets safety standards. These symbols are often located on the packaging or the gear itself. Wherever you are located, choose safe gear by looking out for these labels:
SEI-certified - Indicates that the athletic equipment is certified by Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and follows NOCSAE standards
CE mark - Indicates that the product meets the health, safety, and environmental requirements of the European Economic Area
CSA - Indicates that the product meets the safety standards of the Canadian Standards Association
When it comes to outfitting your child for sports, you may consider using second-hand gear as a cost-effective option. While there are benefits to buying pre-owned equipment, it's best to ensure the gear’s safety and suitability for your young athlete. Of course, weigh the pros and cons of using second-hand sports gear before purchasing them.
Cost savings is one of the most significant advantages of buying second-hand. Sports equipment can be expensive, and opting for gently used gear can significantly reduce your expenses. Choosing second-hand gear also promotes sustainability by extending the lifespan of sports equipment.
Is your child still testing the waters of a new sport? Second-hand gear can be a practical way to introduce them to the activity without a substantial financial commitment.
The primary drawback of second-hand gear is the uncertainty about its history and condition. Safety standards and regulations evolve, and older equipment may not meet current safety requirements.
Finding second-hand gear that fits your child perfectly can also be challenging. Plus, used gear may have signs of wear and tear, which may compromise its durability.
While second-hand sports gear can offer cost savings, safety comes first. Thoroughly inspect the equipment, look for certifications, and consider its age and condition to ensure your young athlete's safety, comfort, and performance.
Explore the key features to look for when selecting sports gear and tests you can perform to assess the level of protection it offers:
High-Quality Materials. For example, in helmets, look for a hard outer shell and impact-absorbing foam liners. In clothing, choose moisture-wicking fabrics that keep your child comfortable and dry.
Proper Padding. Padding in helmets, shoulder pads, or shin guards helps absorb impact and reduces the risk of injury.
Custom Fit. A proper fit is essential for safety and comfort. Many helmets, for example, come with adjustable straps and padding.
Ventilation. Your child needs good ventilation to prevent overheating, especially with sports involving physical exertion like football or soccer. Helmets and protective padding with ventilation features can help regulate temperature.
Impact Resistance. In sports like hockey or football, gear should have impact-resistant properties to protect against collisions and falls. Look for features like shock-absorbing padding and reinforced areas.
To ensure your sports gear is still good to go, perform impact testing by gently tapping or pressing on the protective areas of gear, such as helmets, shoulder pads, or shin guards, to ensure that the padding absorbs impact effectively. The padding should feel firm yet cushioned.
Aside from trying on the gear to ensure it fits perfectly, have your child test for range of motion. For sports that require agility and movement, such as soccer or basketball, make sure the gear allows your child to move freely without restricting their range of motion. They should be able to perform essential movements comfortably.
Keeping sports gear in optimal condition is essential to maintain its safety, performance, and longevity. Learn a thing or two from these gear maintenance tips:
Remember to adhere to care and maintenance instructions provided by the gear's manufacturer. Some gear may have specific cleaning or maintenance requirements.
No matter how you take care of your sports gear, it won’t last a lifetime. You may even need to replace items after some time — even if they still look like they’re in good condition.
So, how do you know when it’s time to replace your child’s sports gear? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
When choosing safe and comfortable sports gear for your child, feel free to let them in on it. Give them the freedom to pick a style, but be guided by the tips above to keep them safe, secure, motivated to play…and even win! While Michael Jordan said an athlete’s success greatly relies on their mindset and capabilities, sometimes, it does rely on their shoes.
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