In an age when every athlete seems to be toting a multimillion-dollar endorsement for some piece of equipment, it’s easy to get cynical about gear and whether the high-dollar items are more helpful than their counterparts at the discount store.
But the reality is that there are important differences between what the athletes are selling and what Ted, the new guy in the sporting goods department, is selling. Forget the colors, the design, and the endorsements. There are plenty of good reasons to buy catcher’s gear by Mizuno instead of cheap knockoff brands.
Pretend for just a moment that performance is comparable in game situations. The wide receiver’s gloves are good enough that he can haul in the passes effectively, the midfielder’s cleats are letting her maneuver through defenders, or whatever the case may be.
That will be true for several games and several practices but, in time, the quality begins to shine through for the better brands. Stitching will begin to pull loose, strings will get frayed, heavily-used areas will begin to wear through, and so on. It is at that point that the smugness disappears from the face of the buyer who saved a few bucks…and appears on the player who invested a little more.
Short-term durability matters. There are plenty of major leaguers who break bats each season. Imagine how much higher the numbers would be if the teams weren’t using quality bats made from clean, strong wood. And while the fans enjoy watching splinters and chunks fly everywhere, the fact is that most such hits don’t send the ball as far as an unbroken bat would have. Keeping the timber in one piece is key.
Many sports items don’t have a big bearing on player safety, but those that do can literally be life-or-death gear. This applies mainly to helmets for football, baseball, and softball. While fatal incidents are extremely rare, there’s no shortage of headline news about the long-term effects of repeated head injuries in football.
As this debate heats up, there’s no question that the equipment will remain at the forefront of the conversation. It’s very clear that the quality and condition of the helmets has significant influence on the frequency and severity of head injuries in college and professional football, so the same headgear issues should be carefully considered at the youth and high school levels.
Of course, it’s about more than just injuries. Keeping players cool during hot weather can also have a bearing on game outcomes. The story is told of how Florida’s football team proved nearly unstoppable when they first began using Gatorade. Players who get too hot just can’t perform, so they need gear that wicks moisture, deflects sun, and allows air movement. While tradition and superstition play into uniform choices, science does too.
The distance from first place to second can be imperceptible to the human eye. That’s why runners obsess over every millisecond and track athletes struggle to get that long jump a fraction longer. So much of this difference is in the body, but there is still plenty of it on the body.
We feel like many sports are just purely about the human physique. Swimming and even basketball appear to have little connection with any equipment at all. But everybody who has hit the water competitively knows that making the body as streamlined and friction-free as possible can make the difference in their location on the medal stand…or whether they’re even on it. If shaving the eyebrows helps, so will the swimsuit.
These little factors appear in every sport. A wide receiver outruns a cornerback by inches. A soccer player has enough stamina to play extra time and win. A centerfielder has just enough grip in the glove to rob a home run. While much of this is due to the hard work of players, there is always that fraction that’s owed to shoes, gloves, jerseys, pads, and other equipment.
You can’t go out and buy heart or guts, but you’ll be buying equipment for any sport you play. The gear you choose can be the difference between winning and losing, and that’s the object of every game.