SoccerToday News Soccer Locker Review: Shin Guards 101
Shin guards have come a long way and technology has made a big difference – check out this primer on shin guards 101
Shin Guards – they protect you, prevent injuries, and are a required part of any soccer uniform but this essential piece of soccer equipment is typically an afterthought for most players. Because of this, people rarely know the history of shin guards and are uneducated on the pros and cons of the different styles available in the market today.
Here is a crash course on shin guards – let’s call it Shin Guards 101.
Shin guards have been around forever and have their roots in ancient Greek and Roman times. Due to the dangers of battle, soldiers wore protective guards made of bronze, cloth, or leather on their shins and legs. The original name for these protective guards were “greaves” and were first discovered by archeologists in southern Italy with an estimated date of 500 B.C.
As the need for hand-to-hand combat slowly faded away, various sports began to see the value of having the lower leg/shin area protected. The first of these sports to apply the concept of shin guards was cricket, but the use was not focused on protection. Instead, cricket players saw the advantage of having another way to protect the wickets during a match by wearing large pads on the shins.
Sam Weller Widdowson played cricket for Nottinghamshire during this time and thought the concept of a protective cover for his shins would transition well to his association football team, Nottingham Forest. By cutting down a larger pair of cricket shin guards and strapping them to his shins with pieces of leather, Sam became the first player to wear shin guards in a soccer match and unknowingly launched what would become a multi-million dollar industry.
Now that we’re all up to speed on the history of shin guards, it’s time to focus on the more pressing issue; educating players, parents, and coaches on the types of shin guards available and the pros/cons of each. There are a plethora of shin guards available now from the three major soccer retailers – Nike, adidas, and Puma plus a handful of other companies, but these three having been driving the shin guard market for the past few decades.
The first choice a player must make is slip in compared to ankle protection.
Ankle Protecting Shin Guards
Recommended Age Range: Beginner-U12, Over 40
These shin guards combine a protective shell with a fabric attachment at the bottom that slides on to the heel. This fabric attachment serves two purposes: protection and stability.
Inside the fabric (typically cloth) attachment are two round pieces of plastic that fit directly over the anklebone. When a player uses this type of shin guard, they are fully protecting both their shin and ankle from any potential knocks. The other benefit to an ankle protecting shin guard is the stability provided by the foot strap. With the shin protecting part being connected to the foot by the fabric attachment, players need not worry about the shin guard slipping down their leg or becoming dislodged during a match.
Typically these shin guards are seen on either end of the age spectrum. An ankle protecting shin guard is almost always what parents will buy their children when first getting into soccer, as protection is paramount
Likewise, older Sunday men’s league teams will rely on this type of shin guard to protect themselves from injury.
Once a player hits age 12, many begin the transition to slip in shin guards for mobility and comfort.
Slip In Shin Guards
Recommended Age Range: 12+ and professional
Slip In shin guards are meant to be the ideal combination of comfort and protection. The term “slip in” comes from the action of simply inserting or “slipping in” these shin guards underneath a player’s socks.
Depending on a player’s preference, some will use shin guard sleeves to keep their shin guards from moving up and down or even apply athletic tape around the outside of the sock, at the bottom of the shin guard, to keep it in place. As players get older and begin to develop their abilities, ankle protecting shin guards become a nuisance and hinder mobility. These “slip in” types of shin guards are the biggest market for retailers and, as a result, there is a myriad of options available from plastic to carbon fiber to moldable and everything in between. A quick Google search will show you more than 30 options available from Nike and adidas in different shapes, colors, or team logos like Barcelona or Manchester United.
Recently there have been smaller companies such as California based Pleymkr Athletics that give players the ability to customize shin guards with any picture, design, or color they may want.
At the end of the day, selecting a pair of shin guards should be based on the ideal combination of protection, comfort, and looks.
Confidence is one of the most important factors in soccer and every piece of equipment a player wears, from their jersey all the way down to their cleats, will affect confidence.
I recommend that any shin guard search factor in the three key areas mentioned above and, for parents in-particular, players be allowed to wear the shin guards that will keep them safe while allowing them to express their individuality.