Travel soccer is intense and parents are more focused. Parents pressure players to go back into games before they are ready all too often. Travel players are driven and dedicated to the sport, and hesitant to share pain concerns for fear of letting the coaches and the team down or missing valuable playing time. There have been situations where kids have gone from crutches to games to crutches again in the injury cycle. As fall approaches, travel soccer begins another year under a common mission statement along the lines of: “to be successful, children should show a high level of ability, and their families should recognize that a greater commitment, both in terms of attendance at practices and games as well as financially, is required.” While the travel clubs build in player count to accommodate predicted injury and encourage players to take the necessary break for a speedy and full recovery, protecting children from injury could also be a more prevalent part of the mission. With rigorous activity, frequent practicing, and more time on the field overall, the odds are increased for more injuries to occur in travel soccer than in a regular recreational league only, in spite of travel’s professional instruction on preventive measures such as stretching and playing smart.
With as much impact a travel player applies to the heal and foot in one season alone, even before more serious injuries might develop, chafing from a misfit cleat can lead to blisters or lost or ingrown toenails, all of which can be prohibitive to racking up player time. Matching shoe to surface aside, actual shoe fit should be given consideration and warrants careful attention. As a health journalist for youth sports offers tips to follow: “First, choose cleats with no more than a pinky finger’s distance between the wearer’s toes and front of the shoe, even if you think your player can just grow into them.” The width issue is trickier. “Soccer shoes are notorious for being narrow,’” cautions a Seattle physical therapist and former collegiate soccer player. “Especially if the kid has wider feet, you need to get a cleat with more room in the toe box so there is space for the metatarsal heads.” Inevitably, not enough space can cause a player to experience toenails coming off or even toe fractures. Enough cleat is particularly important in children who are slightly heavier: “There is more weight on their feet, pushing down on their arch, so parents need to be [particularly] aware of width and fit in larger kids.” No matter how tempting, avoid just getting whatever is on sale or fashionably popular, or using hand-me-downs from siblings or friends. Siblings’ foot shapes vary as much as their personalities. Just because they’re related does not mean they should share shoes.
Chronic heel injuries have become more prevalent among young travel soccer players, interfering with performance and keeping players off the field. Parents are looking for relief in altering shoe lining. With experts reporting stress on the foot at 2.75 times body weight during running, and the heal being the largest bone in the foot designed to support the weight of the body, a separate discussion will be dedicated to the topic and extend well beyond actual shoe fit in our next blog post, stay tuned.