No matter how talented a carpenter is, with bad tools he’ll be hard pressed to produce a good product. The same holds true for a keeper. A good keeper with bad pads has a hard job, made harder.
How does the job get easier? Simple logic says good equipment helps. Somewhere along the line, though, logic has become expensive when it comes to pads. Outfitting a keeper can be expensive and money isn’t always something that’s available by the buckets.
It is possible for a keeper to be well kitted without spending a fortune, just as it’s possible for a keeper to spend a ton of money and be poorly protected. Part of being well kitted is assessing what you have and what you need based on the requirements of the level you play, the surface you play on, your size, your aspirations, your gender and finally your budget.
In the modern game, the typical list for the well kitted keeper includes a helmet with face mask, chest protector, pelvic protection, padded shorts, hand protection, legguards and kickers. At the international level, a keeper can easily spend over US$1,000 on equipment. By the same token, you don’t have to spend US$1,000 to have a set of useful equipment.
Very rarely does a keeper come to the goals without some kit to draw on. In assessing what a keeper inherits, questions that come to mind are does it fit? does it protect? and will it do what I want it to do? If the answer is yes, then the job is easy, take care of what you’ve got and it should take care of you. If the answer is no, then you’ve got to prioritise making do with what you’ve got,with what you really need to replace.
In this tip and the equipment tips to come, I’ve put together my priority list. Under the item of equipment there follows a description of what to look for, how it should fit and how to take care of it.
There are still a variety of different kickers available on the market and in various stages of circulation from old equipment bags. If there’s one piece of equipment that should be replaced immediately, if not sooner, whether it be inherited or recently purchased, it’s bad kickers.
Bad kickers can be, but are not limited to, bamboo and leather square toe kickers, worn foam kickers, kickers that are too big, or kickers that are too small. First off, kickers determine the techniques available to you to clear the ball. Modern hockey requires a keeper to be able to first time clear a shot. In square toe kickers, that is a technique that is among other things, extremely painful, if not virtually impossible.
If you’ve inherited foam kickers the tests for finding out if they’re up to snuff are fairly quick and simple. If kickers are too big, you won’t be able to fasten the straps tight enough to secure them on your feet. If they’re close, you might be able to punch extra holes in the straps to make them fit. That might keep them on your feet for a while, but the biggest problem with kickers that are too big is that they’re difficult to move in. The foot doesn’t make actual contact with the field, the kicker does. As a result, you end up slipping or tripping.
When kickers are too small, the problem is usually equally obvious. Toes hang out, or the kicker doesn’t sit back far enough to cover the heel. There don’t seem to be enough holes in the straps on the large end. Once again, you might be able to work around it by punching extra holes, but after time and practice, you’ll find that you end up getting hit in all the places that are exposed with kickers that are too small.
The problems with worn kickers are equally painful. When high-density foam kickers break down, they lose their rebound and protective qualities. They’re about as useful as over-sized slippers and should be put out to pasture. Just because kickers are old and ugly, doesn’t mean they have to be replaced. A well struck shot will usually sting no matter how new, or good your kickers are. There’s a difference between sting and collapsing in a heap in pain when the ball contacts your arch. The rebound qualities of the kicker are far more important. As long as rebound off the kicker is fairly proportional to the speed of the shot coming in, there’s life in the kicker.
If after you’ve assessed what you have in your kit bag and finding it lacking, or you just want new kickers there’s a lot out there, good and bad. We’ll start with the good (OBO of course).
OBO kickers, whether it be Robo, Cloud 9 or Yahoo, are all similarly shaped. For a young keeper that’s important because he’ll be playing in a kicker that’s shaped the same way as he grows as a person and a keeper. The kicker is designed with a tongue that locks the leg guard in place and keeps it from twisting. In the Robo line, the straps that keep the kicker down on the foot are built into the kicker. This keeps them from sliding back on the foot, a problem with kickers that have external straps.
When selecting a kicker, durability can be a consideration. How long a kicker will last depends on how often you play, the surface you play on and the velocity of shots you face. OBO kickers are designed to wear well. The foam has a coating that stands up to abrasive surfaces like sand-filled pitches far better than the average foam kicker. The kickers also have bonded rubbing strips for the bottom of the kicker where most contact comes. This adds life to the kicker without sacrificing rebound. If there’s a complaint about OBO’s, it’s that they last too long.
High rebound kickers use foam that is less dense than normal kickers. They offer great rebound, but over time and use, the foam compacts, losing elasticity and rebound. If you play a lot and don’t have the resources to replace your kickers, high rebound kickers probably aren’t your best choice. On the other hand, if you want a kicker that puts a shot back as quick as it comes in, they’re the way to go.
No matter what kickers you select, they become a useless accessory if your foot won’t stay in them. This is a common problem with kickers that use external, web nylon straps. Toe straps frequently slip and the front of your foot is exposed. There are a number of ways to deal with this. You can tape the toe strap to the strap that goes around the ball of the foot. Don’t use so much tape that you lose contact surface with the bottom of your shoe. You can also merge the strap that goes around the ball of the foot with the toe strap so that they cross under the foot. Finally, the way some kickers fit, you might not need the toe strap at all.
Care of kickers is fairly straightforward. Kickers can get dirty and do need to be cleaned even on artificial surfaces and especially on natural surfaces. A plastic scrub brush and a mild household detergent are usually all you need to put a sparkle back into the foam bits of your kit. Avoid cleansers that are abrasive or caustic. On the maintenance front, two tools are very handy, an awl and needle-nose pliers. An awl is great for punching holes in straps when your feet seem to fit just between the pre-punched holes of the kicker. Needle-nose pliers are good for crimping the roller part of buckles that always seem to come off when you tighten your straps. They’re also quite useful when you first slot the internal straps through Robo kickers.
There is a breaking in period for high-density foam kickers. Like any new piece of new equipment, you should use them in training before you break them out in a game. When breaking in kickers, I’ll usually wear two pair of socks for the first three or four training sessions. Foam can be stiff and will rub all the sensitive areas around your ankles. An extra pair of socks will eliminate most of that chafing.
Most kickers are shipped flat from the manufacturer. To help shape the kicker, I’ll tighten the straps as far as they’ll go. Beating the kicker with a stick or wrapping them snugly in an elastic bandage are also good ways to speed the break in process. Know that bottom line, all kickers usually need to break in are three good training sessions with lots of shots.
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