We always hesitate when considering which types of shin pads are the most suitable depending on the position on the field. Shin pads can be long or short, can cover the sides of the leg or just the front side, can be implemented by ankle pads, can be different thickness or made of different materials. In a nutshell, there are lots of shin pads in the market and we must know the best fit for each player. If no two goalkeepers are the same, neither the protection they need.
According to a study by J. Noya1 , football injuries are estimated at 3,1% per each 1000 hours of exposure. This study was based on all injuries during a whole season in the Spanish First League. There are no further studies on this subject and, regarding this 3,1% number, we do not know which injuries were minor, moderate, or severe with lifelong impairments.
There are two main factors that determine the kinds of shin pads a goalkeeper must wear: the age and the 1×1. Still, we will also analyse in this article other secondary aspects.
Age is key in order to choose the type of protection for a player, not only in terms of football shin pad, but also for any other sport. Medical bibliography is very well developed in this field and we have known for a long time how the bone growth works. To sum up, we are born with a very delicate and flexible cartilage structure that becomes calcified and gets stronger and stronger as we grow older.
At these ages, a hard blow can lead to a bone oedema, osteochondritis, fracture, or break. I am quite sure many of you have had any injuries in the team due to Osgood-Schlatter disease or also because of Sever disease, both growth osteochondritis. While it is true that children tend to heal more easily than adults, sometimes metaphysis do not heal well and the consequences are severe, as dysmetria or bone deformities. Therefore, we recommend the following:
– At preteens ages: for boys from 0 to 14 and for girls from 0 to 12 years old, we recommend covering 75% of the shinbone2.
Example 1: the optimal fit of a shin pad for an 8-year-old boy (120cm tall approximately) should be 18cm (75%)
Example 2: the optimal fit of a shin pad for a 13-year-old boy (146cm tall approximately) should be 23cm (75%)
– Teenagers: between puberty and age 21, we recommend covering between 50 and 75% of the shinbone. At these ages, the optimal fit is 14-20cm approximately (50-75%) depending on the player height.
– Players from age 21 and on: there are less chances of injuries and therefore we recommend covering between 25/50% of the shinbone in adulthood. If a player is 170cm tall, that means that his/her shinbone is 38cm approximately. In this case, we recommend 10-19cm shin pads.
Another key factor when choosing the right type of shin pads for a goalkeeper or any other protections is to determine how many times finds him/herself in front of a striker. Sometimes these plays lead to hits, 50-50 ball situation, a bad clearance by the goalkeeper, a bad wall position that leaves too much space, etc. These are situations in which both the striker and the goalkeeper may not be able to measure the intensity of their strength because the goal is very close and there is a lot on stake. In the middle of the pitch though, we can decide if collapsing and fight for the ball, or let it go and withdraw rapidly.
In the goal, most of the time, chances are that both players end on the ground, with studs out and whatever it takes.
In consequence, if we observe many 1×1 plays in our matches, we should choose the shin pads with best protection, meaning they must cover most of the shinbone, so the side of the leg will be more protected. If possible, they should use ankle pads, too or shin pads with ankle pads included.
This is a less relevant factor, but it is also worth mentioning because we know studies that link lower weight to higher performance. There is a very interesting research by Valter di Salvo3 where he measured the distance covered by the players, and the goalkeepers’ average was 5km. So, based on those studies and according to Franz RJ5 , a goalkeeper can save about 0,7-1% of his/her oxygen consumption during the match. Therefore, because of the increasing of the jump distance and the reduction of the consumption of oxygen, it has been proven that the less your equipment weights, the better (including the shin pads).
In that matter, carbon fibre shin pads are unmatched, because they are half the weight of the ones made of plastic: about 30-40gr per unit, depending on the manufacturer; while any sport shin pad made of plastic weights 70-80gr/unit.
SHAPE OF YOUR SHINBONE
The morphology of your shinbone is key to choose the right shin pad. Some people have very curvy shinbones (Blount’s disease or Mau-Nilsonne Syndrome), and others have skin deformities such as cyst or scars that make impossible a proper shin pad fit. Shin pads are usually cylindrical in shape, which leave hollow spaces between the legs and the support. If you are lucky, you may find some brand that makes shin pads using anatomical moulds and, therefore, with a more functional shape.
Still, if you have any type of major deformity in your shinbone, you will better get custom shin pads.
In conclusion, there is not a general solution because each and every goalkeeper is unique and, based on different parameters, the goalie must protect him/herself in greater or lesser degree. For precaution, we always recommend erring on the side of overprotection, because in case of frontal blow, the consequences can be terrible. You never know when you can suffer from a major injury such as a shinbone fracture, but it is important to be prepared to avoid injuries and lifelong impairments.