Anyone who has a child in youth sports knows that athletics are way more intense than they were when we were kids. Even second- and third-grade town teams meet 3, 4, even 5 times a week, and now just about every sport is “year-round” if you want it to be (we know club organizations do, of course). And as our kids’ athletic commitments have grown, our sports gear budget seems to have ballooned along with it.
After an early spring in which my middle son developed a limp from ill-fitting sneakers, and a recent, stressful hour trying to parse the difference between baseball and lacrosse cleats at a local sporting goods warehouse staffed by one employee per every 5,000 square feet, I decided I could use some global insight. Jessica Kane, outreach coordinator for Steel Locker Sports in Austin, Texas, shared her observations about three things we ’80s kids—who just maybe wore jellies to little league softball practice—seem to be doing wrong when shopping and caring for the seemingly endless gear needed by 21st century young athletes.
Buying Too Big
This is maybe the most common misconception among parents, says Kane. Kids grow up quickly, and you might want to buy bigger shoes and clothes thinking they’ll grow into them. For shoes, you should buy the size that fits them comfortably now—ideally, according to podiatry experts, at the end of the day, when the foot has been working hard and might be a bit swollen, just as it is after running. Just as you probably know that too-small shoes can create pain and problems, too-big ones can, too: because the foot will slide around the shoe, blisters and muscle and tendon pain can result. The same rule should apply to uniform and clothing: comfortable and safe movement depends on it. Buy a proper fitting size for them and when the time comes, you can buy them a bigger uniform.
Brand new shoes are the staple of a new school year and sports season. But many parents make the mistake of buying flash over substance, says Kane. When it comes to court sports or running, don’t buy street shoes instead of proper sports shoes: this is associated with common foot abnormalities like athlete’s foot or flat feet. Not all field sports require cleats, but it is important to do a bit of research on the types of cleats for specific sports. From a safety standpoint, soccer cleats are fairly versatile for all sports, but your child shouldn’t wear a shoe with a prominent toe cleat (often on baseball and lacrosse shoes) for soccer, which can be dangerous when kicking (and some refs might forbid). As your child ages and performance matters, you might want to invest in specialized cleats: the design in football, lacrosse, baseball, and soccer cleats are slightly different and can enhance lateral movement and other skills.
Not Washing Enough
We all—especially those of us with hockey players—know there’s a special eau de kid that only gets worse when our young athletes hit puberty. But the offense letting gear languish in bags or cubbies after a game or practice (or three) goes beyond locker room nose assault. Parents often let their kids wear their sports gear a second or third time if there is no visible grime, says Kane, but bacteria proliferates from sweat and even a little dirt which can cause rashes, acne, and other skin troubles. Other grubby little athletes will most certainly come in close contact with yours during the sport, adding their sweat and germs too, increasing your child’s risk of rashes and infections. After a game, make sure your children change out of their sweaty clothes and into fresh ones; and get those jerseys and pads—basically anything that’s not plastic—into the washing machine.
Spending Too Much
Sort of a surprise coming from a representative from a sports gear company, right? Kane recommends that before you commit to buying really expensive shoes and gear for your kids, remember that it will face a lot of wear and tear, sometimes for just a six-month stretch. A high price tag doesn’t always translate to great product performance—it often corresponds more with what brand-name is hot at the moment—so don’t be afraid to buy gear at a lower cost if the quality seems comparable. A good sales manager should be able to point you in the direction of less expensive brands that perform just as well as the pricey ones.
Top photo: Our “sports closet” at home. And this is just the half of it.