Thursday, July 10, 2008

Football Gear

I didn’t realize how much I know about football gear until the parent of a new player asked me for a few recommendations. As I sat down to type out an email in response, I found that my suggestions just went on and on. Because here’s the deal: our kids’ tackle football league has done a good job in choosing pads and helmets to keep our kids safe. And the basic practice pants and top (as well as the game uniform that is typically distributed just before the first game) are perfectly fine. But there are a few things will make your child more comfortable in the extreme heat of pre-season practice as well as in the extreme cold that often occurs toward the end of the season.

Here’s my “Top Ten” list:
  1. Get Under Armour shirts for your child to wear under his/her shoulder pads. There are short-sleeved tops for warmer weather (labeled “heatgear”) and long-sleeved shirts for when it gets cold (look for the heaviest you can find, labeled “coldgear”). These are better than cotton t-shirts because they wick the sweat away and more useful than a fleece when it gets cold because they are warm without adding bulk.
  2. Buy at least one extra practice uniform to cut down on laundry. Since our kids practice every day, your life will be easier if you can rotate the uniform they wear. Note that although the pants that the league issues have pads sewn in, you don’t have to buy that kind. Some pants have inserts for pads so you can take them out when you wash them. And some pants don’t come with any pads, but instead require a separate set of biker short-like pads. Whatever you choose, do make sure you wash the uniform on a regular basis (there was one boy last year who didn’t think his uniform was washable and so told his mom not to launder it—and after a couple of weeks of playing in the mud, it was awful!)
  3. Some players like to wear knee-high compression socks; others are ok with regular sports socks. Discourage your child from wearing ankle length socks to practice, even in warm weather; because once the team starts having contact in practice, they are susceptible to turf burns if their lower legs are bare. And if possible, avoid 100% cotton socks, which absorb sweat and are more likely to lead to blisters than performance fabrics. Of course on game days, the kids will be wearing the socks that came with their uniform.
  4. Even on days when the practice is just running and other conditioning exercises, encourage your player to wear his football cleats—they provide additional ankle support that many sneakers don’t, plus they keep the foot stable on the turf.
  5. Always send your child to practice and games with at least one extra mouth guard—invariably one will get lost or destroyed and the kids can’t play without it.
  6. For boys, buy the most comfortable athletic supporter you can find. All the boys hate them, but they really should always wear them to every practice and game. While it is true that the league doesn’t require them so the coaches won’t say anything if the boys don’t have them on, that just means it is up to parents to make sure their kids are protected. My sons have experimented with everything: the bicycle-short type (their favorites are by Shock Jock and Under Armour), the underwear-brief type, and with the classic one with just straps. The last type seem to be the least comfortable for them, but you should see what works best for your child. My boys have also experimented with wearing the bike shorts and briefs with and without their boxers/briefs underneath (the classic ones require underwear). Results have been mixed, so again have your child try both ways and see what works.
  7. If your child’s chin strap is uncomfortable, you can buy one to replace it--anything labeled “youth” that you find in stores should fit the helmet just fine. You may find that you’ll want a new one mid-season anyway as these sometimes get smelly! But don’t buy the kind that has a removable piece next to the chin (for easy washing); my younger son had this type last year and the removable piece kept falling out—he was always racing up the field to retrieve it.
  8. Think about getting a pair of receiving gloves. Even if your player isn’t going to be handling the ball a lot, these are nice to wear when the weather gets cold. By the same token, as soon as you see them in stores, start to stock up on hand-warmers and foot-warmers (the kind you use for skiing) for your child—and for you—the extremities sure get cold during the games toward the end of the season! If your child will play center/quarterback or a similar role, think about bringing a hand-towel to games on rainy days so she/he can keep her/his hands and the ball dry.
  9. Plan for some sort of outerwear that fits over the pads for games in bad weather, since all players will spend at least some time on the sidelines. I’ll have to say I never really solved this last year (especially since the boys always insisted they didn’t need an extra layer), but I had my older son’s jacket on standby for the younger one and my husband’s jacket ready for my older son, just in case. 
  10. You’ve probably noticed by now how hard it is to tell the kids apart once they are all suited up in their helmets and uniforms. The game jerseys will have numbers, which makes it somewhat easier to identify your child. But you might try to talk your player into wearing a brightly colored wrist-band or neon shoelaces to help you find her/him easily. (Good luck with this; my boys refuse—they think their coaches will mock them, and they call me a bad mother for not being able to tell who’s who on the field!! But I was envious of the moms who were successful with this tactic last year.)
I also have a bit of advice about snacks:
  1. During pre-season and the first few games (when it is still really hot), the most important thing is to keep your child hydrated. Don’t wait until practice to have your kid drink because if they drink too much after exercising hard, they are more likely to throw it all up. A better idea is to drink lots all day and then just top it off with a little cold water or Gatorade during breaks.
  2. Similarly, the kids shouldn’t eat too much just before playing or during the break they get halfway through pre-season practice. Better to have a healthy meal a few hours before and then have something light while they’re on the field.
  3. For fast energy, cut up fruit (like orange slices) work better than granola bars.
  4. If your child tends to cramp up in the heat, add more bananas to his/her diet.

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