Sporting gear: the right price, fit & function

It’s fall, and that means children are practicing their football moves, limbering up for soccer, tying on skates, or beginning a new season of dance lessons. For parents, all those activities mean a longer shopping list. Here, tips from experts on the gear your child will need, and what it’s going to cost.

Football $120 to $260

“An eight- or nine-year-old doesn’t need fancy equipment,” says Vernon T. Tolo, M.D., chief of orthopedics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But the older a child gets, the more important the equipment becomes — football sports injuries increase with age.” In many states, at least some of the protective gear is supplied schools, but you may still need to buy a helmet, cleats, and pads. The most important thing to look for a good fit.

The helmet shouldn’t slip when your kid shakes his head. Expect to spend $60 to $80 for a helmet (more for one with a protective air liner — used by the pros and thought to offer better, more flexible protection than foam pads).

Shoulder pads should fit snugly across the shoulder blades and down the arms. Cost can run from $30 to $80.

* When buying cleats, consider your child’s ankles; if they’re weak, spring for a high-top model. You’ll spend $20 to $100 for cleats (in leather or nylon mesh). You’ll pay more for shoes with replaceable cleats, but they generally aren’t worthwhile for younger players who are likely to grow out of the shoes before the cleats wear out.

* Your child will also need a mouth guard and, depending on the position he plays, receiver’s gloves, a rib guard, and/or additional pads.

Soccer $30 to $115

Cleats and shin guards are soccer mainstays. “Your can hand these things down,” says Donald Cook, M.D., medical director of Monfort Children’s Clinic in Greeley, CO, “but make certain they fit.” If shin guards are too loose, they’ll get in the way when a child runs, and ill-fitting shoes can cause a child to trip.

* Plan on investing $15 to $70 for cleats.

* Shin guards come in several varieties, from single-strap to stirrup and sock types. Again, older kids need the most protection, which you’ll get from a stirrup with a molded plastic shell backed by gel or air tubes. Expect to spend between $5 and $30.

* You’ll also need to buy a ball so your child can practice all those newly learned moves in the backyard. The more expensive models, with hand-sewn polyurethane covers and latex bladders, are softer on impact. You’ll spend between $10 and $50.

Ballet $32 to $85

Lessons aren’t cheap, but at least “you don’t need a lot of equipment — that’s the good thing about dance,” says Jane Bonbright, Ed.D., interim executive director of the National Dance Association, based in Reston, VA. Younger school-age children need a leotard, tights, and flexible ballet slippers; point shoes are for experienced dancers.

* Slippers come in leather and canvas; if your child’s a beginner, consider the less expensive (but also less durable) canvas ones. “Have the shoes fitted by a professional in a dance store rather than buying them through a catalog,” says Bonbright. You’ll pay $12 to $30 for slippers ($40 to $55 for point shoes).

* Leotards will cost $10 to $20; $7 to $10 for tights (a bit more for run-resistant).

Ice Skating $20 to $200 Hockey $195 to $480

You’ll invest in skates for both sports, but the hockey-equipment list goes on and on, including shin guards, shoulder and other pads,

Sporting Gear

padded pants, a helmet, gloves, and a hockey stick. “Sizing is really important with skates,” says Steven Dunlap, a buyer for Gart Sports, a retailer with stores throughout the western United States. “Kids injure themselves more easily if skates don’t fit well.”

* Skates should have a stiff, high-top boot of good-quality leather. Prices range from $20 to $500 for figure skates, $50 to $500 for hockey. For smaller kids, the cheaper ones are fine; for serious skaters, you may spend in the $100 to $200 range. Don’t bother with top-of-the-line skates; they’re geared for pros.

* For hockey, shin guards, which are worn from above the knee to the tongue of the skate, should be carefully sized ($30 to $50); shoulder and elbow pads shouldn’t be too restrictive ($55 to $80).

* Helmets cost between $50 and $70.

* Hockey sticks — made from wood, aluminum, or composites (the last are for serious players) — range from $10 to $80.

Iskiing $80 to $250

Recently, the ski-equipment list grew by one item, but for safety-conscious parents, that item — the ski helmet — is a must. “I’m all for younger skiers wearing helmets,” says Dr. Cook. “They save lives and prevent injuries.” And kids actually like them. “It’s considered cool to wear them,” says Steve Wilbur, vice president, divisional merchandise manager of Gart Sports.

As for the basics — skis, boots, and poles — you have a choice of buying or renting for the season; for younger children, particularly if there are no younger siblings to use hand-medowns, renting may make more sense. Expect to spend about $80 for a season’s rental of skis, boots, and poles; $180 to $250 if you buy (more for “hourglass” or shaped skis).

* The skis should stand no taller than your child, or shorter for beginners. The new hourglass skis — widely available for kids this year — are more responsive, easier to turn, and, depending on the model, can be a good choice for beginners as well as advanced skiers. Shaped skis should be bought at a shorter length than traditional models.

* As for boots, “make sure there’s plenty of room in the toes, and that children’s heels are locked in place,” says Wilbur.

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