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Winter team sports | Products to recommend | For children
January 2016

Recommending winter sports

products for teams

Schools and clubs will soon be purchasing teamwear, balls and equipment for their winter sport teams. RHIANAH RHODE asked suppliers to recommend what retailers should advise schools and clubs buying products for their hockey, netball, rugby and soccer teams

It can be quite daunting when you have to buy sports equipment and teamwear for all the teams at a school or club, often with a limited budget. Buying in bulk means that a lot of money is at stake and the teacher, coach or sport officer who errs will make a very costly mistake. If he is inexperienced he would appreciate guidance from a knowledgeable salesperson.

When buying in bulk, the temptation is often to buy the cheapest products available in order to get as much as possible for as little as possible. Yet, schools expect these products to withstand the rigours of frequent play on often inferior surfaces by multiple players with vastly different abilities.

Because tight budgets are a reality for majority of schools, they often purchase the cheapest inferior products — especially when it comes to balls and kits, says James Mullen from PUMA SA. “Remind customers that these garments and equipment will only last half a season and they will end up purchasing double the amount of product than previously budgeted for.”

Buying the wrong equipment has become such a widespread problem that Sports and Recreation (SRSA) is planning on implementing new norms and standards to regulate what sports clothing and equipment schools and clubs they support financially can purchase.

According to their Annual Performance Plan 2015/16 they want to supply 6 400 schools, community hubs and clubs with equipment and clothing per year until 2018/19. But, the department is concerned about the inferior quality, exorbitant prices and shortage of suitable sporting equipment they’ve encountered in the past.

Buying the wrong equipment is, however, a problem that the thousands of other schools and clubs who have to buy their own teamwear and equipment share.

Buying balls

Team balls, especially, are bought in big quantities and making the wrong choice can be a very expensive mistake — for which the retailer is often blamed.

What advice can a retailer therefore offer to ensure that his school and club customers make the best choice to suit their budget?

Advise the customer to check the official ball status in school and club competitions, as well as leagues, before purchasing, as this may determine his choice of practice and match balls, says Charles Painter from Kevro Sports, distributors of BRT teamwear, Brutal rugby, Sevenn netball, Acelli soccer and Blackheath hockey.

Only competitions played under the auspices of the national federation (e.g. Craven Week rugby) has to be played with the official match ball of that federation – several other leagues and competitions have their own official ball suppliers, or no ball brand is an official supplier.

Therefore SARU rugby and SA Schools Netball matches are all played with a Gilbert balls, as the brand is the official sponsor of both federations — but at lower levels other brands are used. In soccer, the Coca-Cola Cup schools soccer tournament is, for example, played with balls bought and rebranded by the name sponsor, while the Danone league for primary schools does not specify a ball brand, only that a size 4 ball should be used.

Also make sure the balls are the correct size for the age group of players, says Mullen.

Hockey balls should roll and feel as close as possible to an international standard ball, which can be out of the price range of some schools, says Shane Schonegevel from OBO SA, local distributor of Gryphon and OBO.

He therefore suggests that retailers should recommend a well-made rotationally moulded hollow ball or, if affordable, a ball with a PVC outer and moulded cork and rubber inner.

For rugby balls, weight and balance are key features, says Evert Ferreira from Brand ID, local distributor of Canterbury. He would advise schools and clubs to purchase IRB approved balls, which have been tested and will offer players consistency and accuracy.

Customers should match balls to the conditions and playing surface of the school or club, advises Nick Wiltshire from Pat Wiltshire Sports, local distributor of Mikasa.

“For schools in rural areas, where children will be playing on gravel and hard ground surfaces, recommend wound or moulded soccer balls,” he says. “These have been tested and found to be more durable and longer lasting.” For grass field use, on the other hand, he would recommend machine stitched balls.

Ball quality and price

Advise teachers and coaches to purchase balls from a reputable manufacturer in order to ensure that balls last longer, adds Mullen. They should offer players good grip, stitching, weight and balance. For soccer it is also important that balls have a durable outer surface that can endure kicking.

In his experience, purchasing slightly more expensive and brand specific products usually last more than one season, agrees Wiltshire. He found that when quality balls are purchased, last year’s match balls usually become this year’s practice balls to serve schools well for quite a few years.

Retailers should also recommend that schools and clubs purchase serviceable and repairable products so that when a ball is punctured, they are in a position to have it repaired as part of the after sales service and product guarantee offered by reputable brands, he suggests.

With practice balls or training equipment the adage buy the best quality for the best price applies as they are used frequently and need replacement more often than top end match balls,” says Patrick Franck of W.E.T. Sport Importers.

For junior level players however, more inexpensive generic brands offer products that do the job almost as well as top of the range products, for a fraction of the price, he says. Because a junior school rugby player will not kick the ball as hard as a high school player, a cheaper 2-ply, rather than 3-ply ball will work. Junior players do not require as much shape retention as the more expensive ball offers.

“By the same token, a senior player would need a better ball to perform at a higher standard.”

Ball specs for age groups

To make life a little easier, sports governing bodies have rules and guidelines with regards to what balls may be used during competition matches. It is important to make customers aware of these rules when purchasing products for the different age groups and sporting codes.

There are also guidelines for sizes that are suitable for different age groups.

Soccer balls

Different leagues will use different size balls. A general guideline to follow is:

  • Size 5: for ages 12 and up. This match ball is also used in adult competitions. It must weigh between 410-450gm and the circumference must be 68-70cm. It must be inflated to a pressure of between 0.6 and 1.1 bars at sea level.
  • Size 4: for ages 8 -12 years, usually most primary school teams. They must weigh between 336-364gm and have a circumference of 64-66cm.
  • Size 3 is the smallest official ball and is used for players under 8 years, usually for mini-soccer. These small balls weigh between 308-336gm and have a circumference of 58-61cm.

Netball balls

  • Size 5 is used for players older than 11 years. This is the official size used in matches, including adult, training sessions and for recreational purposes. The weight of the ball should be between 400-450gm and the circumference 690-710mm.
  • Size 4 netballs are generally used by younger primary school players, usually aged 6-9, and for mini-netball. They are also used in training sessions for older players and for recreational play. The weight should be 375-430gm and the circumference 630-660mm.
  • Size 3: these small balls will usually be used for pre-school players up to age 5, not in matches.
  • Brighter coloured balls that are easily visible are often used for training. Training balls usually offer lower performance than match balls.

Rugby balls

The laws of Rugby state the balls must be oval in shape and made from four panels.

  • Size 5 is the full sized rugby ball used by from U15 teams to senior rugby. The length should be between 28-30cm, the length circumference 74-77cm and the width circumference 58-62cm. The weight of the new ball should be between 410-460g. It should be inflated to the optimum ball pressure of 9.5 to 10 PSI.
  • Size 4.5 is used in women’s rugby for U15 and above teams, including senior rugby.
  • Size 4 is used in junior rugby matches by the U10, U11, U12, U13 and U14 age groups. The average length is 27.5cm, the circumference length 72cm, and the girth circumference 55.5cm.
  • Size 3 balls are used in mini-rugby by age groups U7, U8 and U9. The length is 25.5cm, the circumference length 68cm and girth circumference 54cm.
  • A rugby ball may be treated to make it water resistant and has dimples to make it easier to grip. These will vary from one manufacturer to the other.

The Advance Rugby and Advance League training rugby ball range from Summit, locally distributed by Opal Sports, makes choosing the right ball for the right aged players easy. It’s written on the balls themselves! Walla is for U7’s, Mini is for ages 7-9 and, Midi for ages 10-12.

Hockey balls

The weight of a hockey match ball is 156-163gm and the circumference 224-235mm. The surface can be smooth or indented. The colour must be white, or another agreed upon colour that is easily discernible from the playing surface.

Clothing regulations

For teams’ clothing, the competition rules state:

  • Netball: a player’s position initial must be 150mm above the waist and be visible on the front and back.
  • Soccer: players must wear a jersey or shirt with sleeves. If they are wearing an undergarment, it must be of the same colour as the sleeve. The same applies to under shorts.

Selecting teamwear and bibs

When it comes to selecting teamwear and bibs, it’s important that they should fit players properly and be of good quality, says Mullen. With rugby clothing, make sure the sizes and cuts are standard for specific age groups and that garments are strong and tough enough to endure a season of matches.

Choosing rugby apparel is just as important as spending vast amounts of money on coaches to ensure good results, says Ferreira, who believes that durability and quality fabrics are essential when selecting rugby apparel. “With sport having become such an important aspect in school life, schools get measured by which brand they wear and represent. Therefore, with so much at stake, the latest technologies in apparel are essential.”

Products are usually more expensive due to the use of better quality materials, components, construction and extensive product development, rather than purely due to the brand name, says Angus Thomson of Rhino Rugby South Africa.

He suggests advising customers to ask themselves the following question before purchasing: do the costs translate into a longer lasting, better made task-specific engineered product, or is it just a generic product with a well-known brand on it?

Although every sporting code is unique, learners’ soccer apparel should be all about lightness and breathability, says Ferreira.

Check the soccer garment’s stitch quality, weight, and general cut, adds Mullen.

If customers are looking for economical or easy-to-use products, suggest in-stock kits, says Painter. Numbered bibs will be more affordable than customised apparel and can be used instead of numbering each individual’s shirt/top — making the bibs useable across different age groups. Kevro Sports offers both kit and bib options for netball, he adds.

It stands to reason the teachers should know the age group, size and level of players they are buying for, in order to determine which apparel products will suit them best, adds Thompson.

Hockey sticks

With younger learners, or those trying their hand at hockey, entry level wooden hockey sticks will suffice and will help the player learn the basic skills needed, advises Franck. Their Star product range is designed to provide good value for money for school or club players.

Hockey sticks used for competition must be smooth and able to pass through a 51mm diameter ring, even with any additional coverings. Any curvature along the length of the stick can only have a 25mm depth and must be continuous and smooth. This may occur along the face side or back of the stick, but not in both places.

Offering protection

Many schools have made it compulsory for players to use mouthguards in contact sports like hockey and rugby, and even soccer.

A mouthguard protects the mouth by absorbing impact and dispersing it more evenly to help minimise damage to the wearer. Its use can prevent teeth being knocked out, which can be especially important for young children who are just starting to grow adult teeth. Children’s adult teeth fully develop between the age of 10-12 years and losing a tooth thereafter will result in a permanent gap in the player’s mouth.

How the mouthguard fits is very important, because a bad fit can minimise its ability to effectively protect the wearer, cause discomfort, or interfere with his ability to breathe or speak. If the mouthguard is too small, the wearer may struggle to keep it in place with his teeth or tongue. If it is too big it could cause gagging and customers may then feel the need to cut off excess length, but this could compromise the amount of protection it offers.

Ready-made mouthguards that come pre-formed in set sizes do not cater to different jaw sizes and will most likely not fit every player well. If it does not fit the player’s natural bite shape it will leave him unprotected and cause discomfort.

The boil-and bite type of mouthguards, which are made of thermoplastic material, is available in a number of sizes, and requires the user to heat it and place it in his mouth for it to take shape. It will offer a shape that is closer to players’ natural bite and more comfort than the ready-made version.

The use of a custom-made mouthguard will ensure that young players get the fit that is as close as possible to their natural shape as it will be made from an exact moulding of the user’s mouth.

Contact sports for younger age groups in primary school are usually not as aggressive and competitive as with older groups at high school levels and therefore customers can use the cheaper ready-made or bite-and-boil options for young players. It will also mean that the customer won’t be wasting money should the player decide to quit the sport in a few weeks or months.

For older players a more customised fit may be more suitable as they will have more use for the product and it will last longer, because they are at a more constant growing stage, which means they won’t require a change of mouthguard as often as the younger player will.

As a contact sport with natural hazards, rugby players often get injured and many parents therefore insist that their children play with protective gear that feature padding that helps to reduce or prevent injuries from occurring.

Rugby protective gear may not be thicker than 0.5cm in any area when uncompressed or have a density higher than 45kg per square meter. The International Rugby Board (IRB) formulated this standard in order to prevent players from overly padding themselves and cause injury to players who are not as heavily padded.

They specify that all padding used in the gear must be homogeneous — which means it should have the same texture, hardness and density on the side facing the player and the side facing the opponent.

A player may also wear shin guards with padding incorporations under his socks.

Headgear must be made of soft and thin materials. It must not cause the wearer discomfort or impede his playing movements. It should also be unlikely to cause injury to the wearer or his opponents and therefore cannot be hard or have any sharp edges, seams, etc.

In soccer, players may wear rubber, plastic or similar material shin guards that are covered entirely by their socks and offer good protection. During competition, hockey goal keepers must wear headgear, leg guards and kickers. Remind customers that players with goalkeeping privileges also require protective headgear when defending a penalty corner or penalty stroke.

The value for money the gear offers, its performance and the protection it offers are the main areas to consider when selecting hockey goalies’ protective wear, says Schonegevel. Advise customers to select durable protective wear that offers players a good level of protection, yet allow the keeper to move and play in it.

He suggests a three-dimensionally moulded and heat bonded product, which uses denser foam and offers more durability than glued gear. Their moulding process creates gear that offers more mobility and protection, he explains.

And it’s important that a hockey goalie’s protective wear fit properly, adds Painter. Because the level of protection offered differs between senior and entry level kits, the same kit would not suffice for use by both junior and senior teams, he warns.

Retailers should compare apples with apples with regards to the components offered in the kit, he advises.


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