Taller = Shorter

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I grew up playing youth soccer.  Every weekend the local fields were filled will hundreds of little kids running around in big, clunky shinguards.  Parents outfitted their children with shinguards that ran the lengths of their shins, complete with ankle guards.

Fast-forward to today.  I play for Bucknell’s varsity soccer team.  Probably less than half of my teammates practice in shinguards.  They are required for games, but the norm is to have tiny shinguards, generally no longer than five or six inches.  The shinguards are small and light, barely providing protection.

From age eight to eighteen, I grew about two feet.  In the same time, my shinguard length shrunk in half, from ten inches to five.  That’s not a typo and it’s pretty typical.  The inverse correlation seems counterintuitive, but it is glaringly evident.

Having noticed this small, but rather interesting, phenomenon I wondered what it is about youth soccer versus competitive soccer that accounts for the illogical difference in shinguard size.  In informally polling my teammates and those involved with various soccer organizations I have come to the conclusion that I believe the size difference can be attributed to two main factors.

First, kids’ shinguards are picked out and bought by their parents, whereas teenagers and adults choose their own shinguards.  Parents are inclined to choose larger, more protective shinguards for their children as they tend to be overprotective and less focused on comfort.  Thus, there is a tendency for youth soccer players’ shinguards to be larger.

I argue that another contributing factor is an almost unconscious desire of older soccer players to appear tough and conform to the informal culture of competitive soccer.  Soccer players don’t wear padding or protective gear other than shinguards, despite playing a contact sport.  This has helped create soccer culture that rewards “toughing it out,” playing aggressive, and withstanding pain.  Having shinguards that serve virtually no protective purpose has become reflective of embracing this informal soccer culture and becoming part of it.

In my lifetime of playing soccer I can think of only one player who did not follow this trend and fit in with this culture.  One of my classmates arrived to freshman year soccer preseason equipped with big shinguards that are the kind seen on youth, recreational soccer players.  It was an anomaly and the extent to which we harassed her for it demonstrated the overwhelming trend of older, competitive soccer players having tiny shinguards.  We constantly joked that the only good side was that other teams would think she was unskilled because of the shinguards she wore, giving her the opportunity to surprise them and catch them off guard.  She withstood our teasing for a season, but soon conformed to the trend.

Watch any professional soccer match, glance over to the soccer practice fields when you are on a jog, or come to a Bucknell soccer game (this Saturday at noon!) and I can assure you that you will be hard pressed to find a player with shinguards on that cover more than half of his or her shin.  In fact, at practice many players won’t even be wearing shinguards.  And don’t even waste your time trying to find a player with ankle guards on.

On the other hand, go to any youth soccer practice or game and you will notice that the shinguards on the players practically come up to their knees.  And good luck trying to find a kid without them on.

This seemingly insignificant trend is actually important as it reflects the informal culture of soccer teams and organizations and is revealing of what is respected amongst soccer players.  I would be interested to learn if similar patterns can be seen in any other sports equipment. Can any readers think of other examples of the use of sports equipment reflecting sport-specific cultures?

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4 Responses

  1. This is very interesting, Brooke. I had never thought about this, mainly because I have never played soccer. I’ve had many friends who’ve played soccer growing up, but I never thought to consult them about their shinguards. It doesn’t surprise me though that parents would pick out abnormally large shinguards just to make sure their little baby’s don’t get injured. When I was as youngster, I picked out my own equipment. I couldn’t imagine having to wear twelve inch shin guards on my tiny shins that probably were only ten inches themselves.

  2. I wear “average” shin guards, I think. They have some padding and are about 10-12 inches long. I have had the same pair for six years as I am cheap. i don’t wear them during some pick up games, but in more competitive games I wear them as I am playing against lots of older men like me who have bad aim. ;<)

    • endurance is VERY important in folotabl.but speed and stamina will be useless IF you dont have great ball control, vision, or composure.trust me, coaches dont really care about extreme speed if you dont have ball control and touch. thats the essence of folotabl: control and touch

  3. There have been problems over the years in football with practicing in warm weather and also with dangerous tackles. Right? I wonder if the persistence of those is tied to the norms of the sport as experienced and enforced by players.

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