As in most sporting activities, the soccer footwear is often the most important piece of equipment any player can own. This specialized piece of equipment can often prevent soccer related foot pain, injury and can facilitate better ball control and play. The selection of a proper boot (a commonly accepted term for soccer footwear) is often very difficult as many makes, models and styles are available. To facilitate the correct selection of boots, the following questions should be considered:
- What kind of surface do you play on?
- How much touch do you require?
- What activity level are you playing at?
The outsole is the portion of a shoe that touches the ground. In the soccer boot, the playing surface dictates your options for footwear selection. The common field types are also the common outsole types:
- Firm Ground – The most common outsole, to provide traction on varying pitches or irregular surfaces, is the Firm Ground or Molded outsole. These consist of conical or bladed studs made from firm natural materials. This is often the best choice for young soccer players on community fields.
- Soft Ground – When playing on well-groomed, wet or muddy fields, this outsole provides the best traction. These outsoles traditionally consisted of longer replaceable studs but now may include longer, bladed studs that are not replaceable. Studs on this insole are usually fewer and well spaced. This is often the best choice for professional athletes on manicured pitches, but may not work well for the hard surfaces encountered on many American fields.
- Turf or Hard Ground – A newer outsole created for artificial turf or solid grounds, as encountered on sun-baked fields or icy fields. This is often a good second or backup pair, but shouldn’t be utilized for primary use.
- Indoor – With the increasing popularity of indoor soccer, an additional outsole has been created for dry, indoor surfaces. Usually called flats, they consist of non-marking rubber soles.
Soccer played correctly is utilizing the touch of the foot to control the ball. A soccer boot that produces a more natural touch is often preferred as players become increasingly agile with the ball. Improvement of touch can be done in two ways, boot size or construction of upper. This is often the mistake area many soccer players make, but adjusting for upper construction by wearing a boot too small. This is not recommended and often not beneficial.
- Sizing: A well fitting shoe will improve the touch of the ball. This is the principle that is errantly utilized to force the foot into a smaller boot to create greater foot to ball contact.
- Sizing Guide: Boots should fit snugly in the heel and the toe. Comfort should be the driving factor in determining the correct boot size. A correct fitting boot should feel natural on the foot and will facilitate touch and performance. Note: Wearing a boot that is too small (last years) or with “room to grow” is not recommended as this increases injury potential and decreases performance.
- Women vs. Men Sizing: If the correct sizing is unavailable in a woman’s boot, the sizing difference is 1 – 1 ½ shoe sizes (i.e. Men’s 5 is Women’s 6.5).
- Upper Construction: The upper is the top portion of the shoe that comes in direct contact with the ball. This is constructed of a leather material or synthetic leathers and can augment or interfere with touch of the ball. Please note that increased touch = decreased durability.
- Materials: Natural leathers (Kangaroo, Calfskin or Pittards Leather) have increasing touch and decreasing durability retrospectively. The sizing is also more important as some stretch is inherent in the material. In otherwords, a tighter fit is required and a breakin period is desired to get the best shoe fit. Synthetic materials are much more forgiving for size and durability, but decrease touch.
- Lacing: The different styles of lacing don't make a huge difference, but may change the touch and feel of the boot. Lacing should therefore be as tight as is comfortable and should allow some motion of the toes in both the standing and sitting position.
If the principle use of the boot is for recreational or junior level soccer, the frequency of use may be limited to 1 or 2 times a week for short seasons. Durability is not as important in this boot. If you are playing daily and performing at high levels, as in competition level soccer, ODP (olympic development), high school, collegiate or professional soccer, durability will allow longer use of the boot. Note that at high levels of performance, as in any sport, alternating boots to allow the midsole to recover is imperative to longer wear. If you are able to alternate boots, this also allows adjusting the boot to the current field conditions.
It is recommended that materials be considered to allow longer wear through the season to minimize performance adjustments that occur with changing the boot and getting re-accustomed to the touch and performance of the shoe.
When a training session or match is completed, it is recommended that you remove any excess mud or dirt, as excess water will be drawn from the leather if left. Walking on cement or asphalt is also not usually recommended for the cleat. It is also recommended that newspaper be utilized to help dry the shoes in preparation for the next period of wear. These simple techniques will add life to a boot that is being utilized even at a high level.