The school called and told me to pick up my child, they injured their foot. What I thought was a normal bump and bruise became something more dreaded. "The fifth-metatarsal is broken", the doctor said while showing me the x-ray. I've heard of famous soccer players succumbing to this injury, so i thought there would be various aids to help in the recovery and return-to-play process. Wrong!
I sourced the internet to find something that would protect my little one's feet from future abuse, like a shin guard. Thats when i become quickly disappointed in what i found. More of that to follow below!
And that's how Gel Armor was born. Out of the parental emotion of an injured child, and frustration that there really are no protective standards governing shin guards within the world's most popular sport. I aimed to make a difference, at home and around the world.
My background in engineering and as a former player quickly called foul on what I saw as a solution for metatarsal protection and recovery:
- Memory foam padding. Really? Save it for the pillows.
- Shoe already compresses the padding, no protection at all.
- Unstable lacing in rest of foot compensating for the bulky sock.
- Sock doesn't match the uniform.
Metatarsal Lace-up Guards:
- Not approved for use on soccer field.
- Plastic rubs and interferes in foot movement.
- Awkward lacing, how is a kid going to put this on?
Rubber Slip-on Guards:
- Not approved for use on soccer field.
- Once size-fits-all piece of rubber, no padding or impact absorption.
Armed with the frustration as a parent, who's child said they were scared to play because they think the soccer ball will break their little pinky bone again, I went to work! While engineering a custom metatarsal protector that would instill protection, confidence, and comfort, I suddenly recalled being kicked in the shin during a game over 20 years ago! Through hours of research, i realized the shocking truth about shin guard protection standards. There are none!
But wait, NOCSAE is the only agency I came across with a standard. Who??Again, another lab test and not a real-world testing protocol. Zero clout with FIFA or IFAB. I soon discovered this for high school soccer only, and likely not even enforced. I even played soccer in high school and never heard of this.
I can honestly tell you that as a certified US Soccer Referee, no referee will ever inspect your shin guards for any logo or sticker for compliance. It simply doesn't happen and is not required. It's a pass/fail test if you have them on or not. Back over to you FIFA for "suitable material".
Exposing the industries lack of standards
Did you know that both FIFA (Players Equipment), The FA (England), and IFAB (Law 4) have incredibly weak requirements when it comes to the design and manufacture of shin guards? There simply is no guidance other than "suitable material". Did I mention I'm also a certified US Soccer Referee? Thats why I'm doing something about it with Gel Armor as I've seen too many injuries to children in our game today. It seems the above agencies are more concerned about your shirt being tucked-in, than player equipment standards. Interestingly, the only quality standard is one for a ball bearing a FIFA logo. Now if the principal responsibility of a referee is safety, we obviously have a disconnect when the ball has more quality governance than the players protective equipment. And I've never seen a FIFA professional ball at a kids game.
Furthermore, the European standard EN 13061:2009 governing "The standard design and requirements of acceptable shin guards" merely only advises against reducing the severity of laceration, contusions (bruises) and skin punctures caused by impacts. And while we put our trust (and taxes) in these regulatory agencies to protect us and our children, their standards are just as good as the old rolled-up newspapers used from past generations. It's absolutely shocking!
I did all the research for you and exposed the industry. Read on!
Design and manufacturing of shin pads with multi-material additive manufactured features for football players: A comparison with commercial shin pads - Aitor Cazón-Martín, Macarena Iturrizaga-Campelo, Luis Matey-Muñoz, María Isabel Rodríguez-Ferradas, Paz Morer-Camo, Sergio Ausejo-Muñoz, 2019 (sagepub.com)