Let's Talk About Kit.
When your child first starts out in track and field, ‘kit’ will pretty much consist of some cheap trainers and the first pair of shorts and t-shirt they (or their parent) can lay their hands on. If your child is primary school age or maybe year 7, the chances are you might get away with this simplicity for a while, my advice: make the most of it!
Social comparison is the psychology term for the influence others have on an individual and, in the case of sports kit, this basically explains why your child suddenly announces that the previously totally ok kit is, now, inexplicably, not ok and needs urgently replacing with something ‘better’!
"I'm not going to lie, now that I'm at the age where I have to buy my own shoes and kit, I have genuine sympathy for what my parents went through when it comes to buying my kit and shoes. Sorry guys..."
Joe Fuggle, 2nd November 2021
Feeling that you belong and fit in is especially important for teenagers who, by this time, are forming their own identity, often based on those around them. Being ‘accepted’ by others is absolutely crucial for their happiness. It is for this reason that wanting to look like everyone else suddenly becomes important to them after years of not seeming to care. As parents, I feel that we need to go along with this phase and to accommodate their requests, as far as is practically (and financially) possible, allowing them to build confidence and a feeling that they ‘belong’ to these new, active, and sociable groups. An athletics group is an environment that can provide young people with so many positive and valuable healthy influences that can ultimately shape their views of not only health and fitness, but also and importantly, their confidence in their own abilities and bodies. Encouraging and facilitating this potentially life-changing opportunity is, to a large extent, down to us as parents as it’s invariably us that will be required to click “BUY” or, to provide the cash for them on their kit-buying shopping trips with mates that they are desperately trying to impress.
Enabling them to ‘look the part’ and to facilitate those feelings of ‘belonging’ and ‘fitting in’ are, I would argue, some of the most valuable contributions that we as parents can make but, saying that there is a limit…
(Joe cleaning one of his many football boots aged ~9 years old.)
If your child is anything like Joe was, keeping up with the current trends implies that brand logos will inevitably become weirdly crucial, alongside the need for all kit items to be ‘on-brand’, including (apparently) socks! Couple this with teenage growth spurts and you’ve got the perfect storm. Warning: This phase can be financially painful!
Around the age of 13, Joe’s feet started to grow …. and grow (see photo), the need for the ‘next size up’ occurring pretty much every 2-3 months! At this time, he was also playing football at a relatively high level where it was expected of them to have both standard grass stud boots and 3G/4G artificial grass boots. So, these two items were also required in addition to school shoes, casual shoes (i.e., going out but ‘won’t be seen dead in school shoes’ shoes), trainers, and running spikes. During a (very) brief soiree into high jump, I was also (naively) talked into buying a pair of high jump spikes!!! Thankfully, we managed to sell these bright orange beauties on eBay for a decent amount when the short-lived high jump career came to an abrupt end.
(Joe (middle) and his Tonbridge AC mates at a YDL before he "had to look cool" in 2011.)
Moral of that story: Don’t get sucked into the “I need…” scenario until there’s at least some proof that they intend to stick with the event in question for enough time to justify expensive purchases… especially during the feet-growing phase!!
As I was a single parent with two other children, this seemingly continual financial outlay became problematic, especially as we were also starting to travel all over the country for his competitions, often requiring overnight accommodation. It is important to strike a balance based on your own personal situation and to never feel that you’re letting your child down if you can’t provide them with absolutely everything that they would like, providing them with what they need is what’s important.
Until they get to elite level where 100ths and 1000ths of a second become crucial, young athletes need to understand two things:
That kit is almost certainly NOT going to magically provide a world-shocking performance that takes them to the top of Power of 10 and...
That Mum and/or Dad are having to juggle a million and one other financial costs, are almost certainly trying their hardest, and that those top spikes/trainers might, currently, just be too expensive.
On the subject of footwear, the recent arrival onto the running scene of the new ‘super-shoes’ takes this scenario to a whole new, and potentially frightening level, when it comes to financial outlay. ‘Super-shoes’ are already being worn at youth and junior level and will inevitably appear to young, impressionable athletes, as essential for successful performance, and of course, there will be (a few) parents out there that will be willing to fork out £269.95 for a pair of these shoes for their 11-12 year old athlete. This scenario introduces a whole raft of additional pressure on athlete-parents who are already having to commit so much in terms of both money and time, especially so for those who are also juggling the commitments and costs of other siblings.
Many clubs have acknowledged the cost of continually replacing often barely used trainers, spikes, and assorted kit, and have set up second-hand kit ‘shops’ on club nights. If your club has not yet established one, suggest that they do, it can be a real game-changer especially as this ‘super-shoes’ era takes hold.
The probable reluctance of some young athletes to accept anything other than brand new, can potentially be overcome if these pre-owned items are seen more as hand-me-downs from other athletes that they perhaps admire or look up to.
Of course, another seriously good idea is to create a group of like-minded parents that club together and help each other out, passing down outgrown items in exchange for a contribution to help cover the initial ‘as new’ cost, is a win-win for you all!
Take home message:
Understand that ‘looking the part’ and feeling that they ‘belong’ is seriously important for your child’s overall confidence,
especially entering the teenage years.
Beware of being talked into buying unjustified or unnecessarily expensive kit.
Make the most of the club’s second-hand kit shop.
If you can, donate unwanted kit or do kit-swaps/hand-me-downs etc with other parents.
NEVER feel that you’re letting your child down if you can’t provide them with what is deemed to be top of the range kit. You’re doing YOUR best and that’s what matters.