Choosing a "Boot" at The Soccer Store
Don't let the word "boot" raise an eyebrow! Soccer cleats are also called soccer "boots," "cleats," "football boots," and even "soccer shoes." These are all the same thing. I'll use them interchangeably in this article. For newer parents, having a lot of names for the same thing creates only the first bit of confusion. Sorting through the differences between indoor and outdoor cleats, futsal shoes, American football cleats vs baseball cleats vs soccer cleats, metal studs vs plastic studs, leather vs synthetic shells, turf vs grass, and even lace placement can make a pre-season shopping trip a confusing one. Let's shed some light on the world of soccer cleats and make your shopping trip to the soccer store a little easier!
Indoor vs Outdoor
One of the first things to trip up a well meaning soccer parent is the concept of indoor vs outdoor. A shoe labeled as a soccer shoe at big box soccer store X might in fact be a soccer shoe, but the important question to ask here: for what surface?
Soccer and it's variants is played in the dirt, natural grass, on "turf" and other synthetic surfaces, on hard surfaces like tennis courts, and on wooden courts. The one question that cuts through the noise is: on what surface (s) will we be playing?
Dirt and natural grass surfaces break down and need studs to grab onto them. Without strong longish studs under the boot, players would slip, slide, and collect injuries on the field - especially when the surface is wet.
Indoor surfaces are typically flatter and harder. They may be concrete, wooden (as in a basketball court), or made of synthetic materials like astroturf. For these surfaces, we won't be needing those long hard studs. In fact, those studs will be dangerous and will cause slipping and/or damage to the surface itself. It's best, in these cases to use a flatter shoe - a gum based sole or a short studded turf shoe if playing on turf.
Blades, Studs, Gum or Rubber, and Turf
Choosing the correct sole of the shoe is the most important first step. Blades and molded studs are the two choices for outdoor. A philosophical debate is common around which is better, but an article written for Soccer.com provides a pretty good discussion of the two.
In short, blades are argued to provide greater traction and speed, while studs provide greater stability (i.e. fewer injuries) and quicker release time.
On the indoor side, wooden courts love the grippiness of a rubber or gum sole. These have the added advantage of not leaving any scuff marks for volunteers or staff to have to clean up later. Many indoor wooden courts (frequently used for futsal) have rules against using shoes that will leave scuff marks because of the mess they leave behind.
Turf shoes typically have molded short studs or small blades on the sole. These are the middle-of-the-road between full sized (soft surface) cleats and no-stud (wooden surface) gum soles. These shoes provide good grip and stability on synthetic turf surfaces without causing damage. Turf shoes are not great, however, for use outside on soft surfaces like natural grass and dirt. Parents often mistake turf shoes for outdoor grass cleats. This leads to slips and falls - and an increase in injuries.
Metal vs Plastic Molded Cleats
Some leagues do not allow the use of metal cleats. The main reason cited is usually because of the increased risk for injury. Metal cleats also tend to be a little longer since they are stronger and less likely to break. This means that metal cleats dig deeper into the surface and can damage fields more than their shorter plastic cousins.
Metal cleats can be more expensive than plastic molded cleats. We see them used more often in older youth or adult leagues where players are old enough to hold onto the same pair for longer periods before growing out of them.
Metal cleats can often be removed and replaced whereas plastic modeled ones can not.
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