#38 – Soccer Cleats The Basics

Choosing a "Boot"

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 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 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. Once a plastic molded cleat wears down or breaks off, they are done. 

"Toe Pick!"

One big difference between soccer cleats and baseball or football cleats is the toe cleat. There is no toe cleat on a soccer boot. 

The toe cleat in baseball is there (I have read) to allow traction on the toe while swinging the bat. Football players also dig their toes in while on the line. In either sport, the feet of one player are not supposed to be coming in contact (i.e. kicking in and around) other player's feet. Soccer players, on the other hand, have no use for a toe cleat. In fact, a toe cleat would put players at higher risk for causing kicking and raking injuries on the field. 

Leather vs Plastic Uppers

The choice of uppers for a soccer shoe is a personal choice. Leather varieties come in several different types to include kangaroo (most popular for it's softness and strength), cow leather (more waterproof), and even synthetic leather (growing more popular). 

Synthetic uppers are easier to clean, don't hold water, and keep their color longer than leather uppers. They also don't stretch as much, so if you have wide or otherwise unusual feet a leather upper might make for a better selection. 

It all comes down to personal preference with footwear. Find a good store and try on a number of different types to find the one that first best. 

Points to Consider

  • Leather will stretch and mold to your foot
  • Plastic will hold color and cleans up easily
  • Plastic can be less expensive than leather
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    Leather might help with wide feet
  • Leather will absorb water and become heavier in the rain
  • Plastic will not breath as well as leather
  • Leather offers fewer colors

PassBack Programs

Cleats can be expensive. Little feet are growing quickly. With some pairs of cleats costing nearly $200 a pair, buying a new pair every season or two can really add up. Many clubs have Passback programs that make a lot of sense to look into.

My Club in Maryland, for example, collects gently used soccer cleats and other gear and offers them to anyone who wants them. Families can pick up a used pair of cleats, use them for a season or two, clean them up and return them to Passback. Cleats can easily last several more seasons once the first owner has outgrown them. 

This not only creates a valuable resource int he community, but provides families with another way they can contribute. Volunteer to run your Passback program and you get first look at all the gear coming back. Donate your gently used gear and you may qualify for a tax deductible receipt that can be used to reduce your tax exposure. 

Resources For This Article

  • “Soccer Shoe Guide.” soccer.com, www.soccer.com/guide/soccer-shoe-guide/.
  • wikiHow. “How to Play Indoor Soccer.” WikiHow, WikiHow, 26 June 2017, www.wikihow.com/Play-Indoor-Soccer.
  • Goldsmith, Bobby R. “Metal vs. Plastic Cleats.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 11 Sept. 2017, www.livestrong.com/article/271821-metal-vs-plastic-cleats/.
  • Glaser, Paul M, director. The Cutting Edge. MGM/UA Home Video, 1992, www.imdb.com/title/tt0104040/.
  • Elson, Jeremy. “Synthetic vs. Leather Cleats - Advantages/Disadvantages - TheInstep.” The Center Circle - A SoccerPro Soccer Fan Blog, The Instep - A Soccer Blog by SoccerPro, 16 July 2013, www.soccerpro.com/theinstep/the-low-down-on-synthetic-vs-leather/.
  • Flanagan, Alex. “Cleat Shopping 101.” I Love to Watch You Play, 31 Oct. 2015, ilovetowatchyouplay.com/2015/09/10/cleat-shopping-101/.

The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.

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