History of Shin Guards as Soccer Training Equipment

My friend and I were playing some 1-on-1 soccer in his backyard. I feinted left, moved to the right, and felt like I’d beat him clean. I was wrong.

A heavy thwack against my shins immediately felled me. The pain there was incredible, even though the kick didn’t leave a bruise. And I still got around him to score in our makeshift game. From that moment on, however, I wore shin guards for every soccer game and every time I kicked a ball around with someone.

The best shin guards will lessen the pain of an impact that a defender may cause while attempting a tackle. They won’t completely eliminate the impact and a tough sliding tackle is likely to hurt like the dickens. On the other hand, a great set of shin guards can help to prevent a more severe injury, which makes them a great investment – especially since they are so affordable today.

Makes it hard to believe that for nearly 20 years during the beginnings of soccer, this protective equipment was never worn. In fact, if it wasn’t for the player fears that were occurring in another popular sport, the use of shin guards in soccer may have never come about.

How Did the Invention of Shin Guards Come About?

During the Middle Ages, knights wore a piece of protection that was called a “greave.” Greaves were the part of the armor that would protect their shins. The etymology of the word is where we actually get the words “shin guards” in English today.

The technology for shin guards goes back to the earliest days of human history. Both the Greeks and the Romans were known to equipment their soldiers and warriors with shin guards. It may go back even earlier, as the classic Biblical story of David and Goliath sometimes is interpreted in such a way where the giant is described as wearing “bronze leggings.”

Shin guards in sports came about because of the game of cricket. Having a hard ball bowled down toward your shins as you protect a wicket is something that undoubtedly unnerved more than a few players. There was a definite fear of pain or injury while going up to bat. By inventing the shin guard, batsmen could go up with confidence because the fear of injury went away.

It would be an invention that would change the rules of cricket in 1809.

How Did Soccer End Up Getting Shin Guards?

Association-level soccer in England would be the first to have shin guards included as part of a player’s equipment. A cricketer is often credited with this transition. His name was Sam Weller Widdowson and shin guards first appeared in soccer in 1874. At the time, Widdowson was playing soccer for Nottingham Forest and cricket for Nottinghamshire.

Widdowson was getting tired of getting smacked in the shins while playing soccer. This led him to the idea of protecting himself by cutting down a set of cricket shin pads. He then strapped them to the outside of his soccer socks by using leather straps.

As with most changes that occur in the world, most people at first made fun of Widdowson. When the practicality of wearing a good set of shin guards was realized, however, it didn’t take long to see the crazy genius that Widdowson had provided to the game of soccer.

Modern Shin Guards and What You Need to Know

There are two basic types of shin guards that are available for players today.

  • Slip-in shin guards that go underneath the soccer socks.
  • Ankle shin guards that extend protection around the foot.

You’ll still find shin guards that strap around the calf muscle as well, especially when looking at professional soccer gear. These are still useful shin guards to own because they stay in place quite well, but can cause skin irritation from the movements required in soccer.

Shin guards are also designed for the position that a player is assigned or naturally prefers.

  • Defenders typically need the largest shin guards due to their responsibilities of blocking and tackling. They typically wear extra ankle protection and may have guards that stretch from the ankle to nearly the knee.
  • Midfielders wear smaller shin guards that still have a bit of weight to them, but are also lightweight so that movements aren’t impeded.
  • Strikers will typically wear light shin guards that are fairly minimal in size. Forwards may opt for wearing midfielder-style shin guards if they have defensive responsibilities within the team’s formation.
  • Goalkeepers may choose to go without shin guards. This often depends on the personal preferences of the player.

A standard shin guard shove cover most of the area from the ankle to the knee, though some soccer shin guards may only come up about 75% of the way. You can determine the size of your shin guard by measuring from right above your shoe top to the area of your knee just below where it bends.

Because some shin guard manufacturers list sizes through age instead of measurement, you will need to check each product closely to make sure you’re purchasing the correct size that is needed.

Why Do Some Soccer Players Decide Not to Use Shin Guards?

In many soccer leagues, shin guards are a required part of the uniform. When that happens, you may see some players trying to wear the smallest shin guard possible. And, if the league doesn’t require shin guards, then you will find that some may prefer to go without.

Since shin guards can prevent injury, why would anyone go without?

Some players feel like shin guards can restrict their movements. Others feel like they may not strike the ball cleanly with the shin guards present. For players that tend to drive forward often, most injuries tend to come on the back of the leg on the calf muscle instead, so shin guards aren’t always seen as helpful either.

In some ways, shin guards may be seen as more of a ceremonial piece of equipment. In others, it may be an essential component of safety. Either way, the history of shin guards shows us that it can be helpful to wear this equipment in certain situations.

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