Equipment 101 (Part 2) – Gloves

Yes I will admit that goalkeepers are a different breed, perhaps at times even a bit crazy; we dive at striker’s feet and sacrifice our bodies at all cost. We stand out from our field player teammates not only in personality, but in uniform as well. We wear a funky jersey to distinguish ourselves and protect our bodies, and foam mitts to protect our hands and aid in catching. Goalkeepers, especially, take pride in our uniform and looking different and for sure we are very particular about our glove1equipment – specifically our gloves! Certainly our gear should enhance our performance and protect us from injury, but if it also looks good and feels good that is even better because when we look and feel good, we will play even better! As the last line of defense we are always under the microscope and the slightest error can result in a loss, so there is good reason to invest the time, effort, and a little money into finding the right pair of gloves! A brand new, proper fitting pair of gloves should not only improve the goalkeeper’s actual catching abilities, but they can make a goalkeeper FEEL more secure in their abilities which will boost their confidence. And as all coaches know, a goalkeeper that is confident will feel invincible making them an invaluable asset to their team! They will catch and hold shots more consistently, give up fewer rebounds, and hopefully venture out to win more crosses and become a more dominant presence leading from the back! So let’s take a closer look at proper goalkeeper glove fit, style, function, and care so you can help your goalkeeper find the best pair for their needs!

Proper Fit

The first glove myth to debunk is a bigger catching surface does NOT equal better in the case of gloves! In fact it will actually hinder performance! There is no one glove that is perfect for everyone. Fit is a matter of personal preference and based primarily on the size of your hand! The goal is to find the glove that fits snug, but not too tight so it will contribute to positive performance in goal and consequently lead to an increase in confidence (a good glove makes you feel like you can catch ANYTHING, so YES it can contribute or detract from your confidence). And on the contrary a glove that does not function properly, for example a faulty wrist closure strap that won’t stay closed, can easily contribute to a loss of focus if you are constantly re-tightening and re-closing your strap!

In order to catch hard shots consistently you need to be able to feel the ball and curve your fingers in order to grip the ball which takes into account three aspects: thickness of the foam, the flex of the glove, and the overall size.

Yes the foam on a glove offers protection and cushioning, but the thicker the foam the less feel and natural flex the glove will have. Foam is measured in millimeters and a 4mm thickness is fairly standard.

You should be able to easily flex the glove to grip the ball and to make a fist to punch/box a ball clear. You should not have to fight the gloves natural tendency to be flat nor should the glove be so stiff that your fingers are forced dead straight (as they are with many of the ‘fingersave’ type gloves).

Your hand should occupy most of the space in the glove. As the saying goes, IT SHOULD FIT LIKE A GLOVE!!! You can find sizing charts as a guideline online. Keep in mind that fit can vary slightly across brands. As a general rule of thumb (pun intended!) you want a tiny bit of room at the fingertip (~1/4 inch) so you can bend your fingers easily without stressing the seams of the glove. You do not want excess glove beyond your fingertips nor should not see excess glove material across the back of your palm buckling up when you cinch the glove at the wrist or any secondary Velcro straps. This is an indication that the glove is too big. In addition if you are constantly jamming your hands together to push the glove further down on your hand that is also an indication that the glove is too big. Just like proper cleat fit you want your gloves to snug so they are responsive to your hand movements. If you hand is sliding around inside your glove you will not have a good feel for the ball.

FEMALES – stop wearing giant oven mitts for gloves aka ‘Mickey Mouse hands’! You will never convince me that you can catch better when you can’t feel the ball! The more excess glove there is (especially horizontally across the width of your palm when you wear male cut gloves!) the more your hand will move independently inside the glove.

glove2YES there is such a thing as a female specific cut glove! Several companies used to produce female cut gloves, but due to lack of demand there are very few, if any still in the marketplace. The Dynasty glove (as shown here on LSU gk and Dynasty staff coach Megan Kinneman) fills that void! No need for fancy gimmicks, it is straight forward glove that FITS! It is a super-soft 4mm latex foam, smooth palm with a slight forward curve of the fingers to gently suggest the correct contour position of the hand for catching! It is a snug fit that feels great, so the glove is essentially an extension of your hand working as one unit! The other feature that students rave about (besides the fit) is the lightweight and breathable fabric. This is a great feature during the summer. Goalkeepers really need to try this glove to feel the difference a glove that FITS makes! What I have witnessed is once a gk wears this glove they keep coming back for more. Interested in learning more? Check out the Dynasty Goalkeeping Camp Store.

Proper Style

This decision is driven by individual preference. There is no way to know what you like until you try it, so I recommend going to a local soccer shop and trying on various cuts. There is the standard flat palm, gunn cut (rolled fingers), negative cut (meaning the stitching of the seam is on the inside instead of outside), wrapped thumb or fingertips, contour shape, and ‘Fingersave’ (or brand equivalent), just to name a few. And there are new styles being developed all the time. Personally I always preferred a glove that fit my fingers tighter as I found them to be more responsive and more comfortable. For me that meant the rolled fingers, wrapped thumbs, or fingertip. In addition I am not a fan of any of the ‘fingersave’ type gloves. Yes, I have worn them, so this comes from first-hand experience as a goalkeeper as well as a coach watching young gks struggle to overcome the glove stiffness and therefore be unable to catch consistently. The stiff spines or ‘exo-skeleton’ in this style of gloves are designed to protect the fingers from injury and are well marketed. While there is certainly validity that these gloves do protect the hand from injury (mostly crush injuries from the hand being stepped on or kicked in the back of the hand) they do NOT prevent all injuries. They are designed to prevent hyper-extension of the fingers, so it is still possible to jam a finger or thumb in this type of glove. The most common mechanism is by ‘poking’ the ball with the end of the fingers resulting in finger fractures, dislocations, or torn tendons and ligaments. These gloves are not fail safe so overall finger strength and technique still need to be stressed, especially in young gks. And in my opinion I feel that this particular type of glove actually hinders young gks, especially females with weaker hands, from learning proper technique because the glove provides the rigidity, not the hand muscles. Plus young hands struggle to overcome the stiffness so the result is a gk who blocks balls with flat palms versus a gk the curves their hands properly to grip and catch balls cleanly. I do believe that in certain circumstances this glove can be a good choice for gks who have suffered a broken bone in their hand, but for repetitive finger jam injuries I feel finger taping is a much more effective method for protection without sacrificing finger flexion and catching technique.

Proper Function

Here are some questions to help drive your decision:

What will your primary use be?
Practice gloves or game gloves? Ideally you would like to have at least 2 pairs of gloves, one for training and one for matches. Your match pair is ONLY for matches (NOT even warm-up) so the foam stays fresh for as long as possible to maximize grip life. The top end super soft foam gloves offer better grip, but in doing so they inevitably sacrifices some durability. You want to invest in the best foam/grip for your match pair, but for practice gloves you should prioritize durability over grip since they will need to endure a lot more abuse on a daily basis. This means your practice gloves may be thicker and/or have a foam with a contoured surface to help minimize wear. Or better yet use your retired match pair if they are still is usable condition. And if they are not in usable condition then you probably waited too long to replace your match pair!

Playing conditions?
Wet or dry? Hot or cold? Certain foams are designed to perform better in wet conditions and there are even gloves designed with fleece linings to keep a goalkeeper’s hands warm in winter conditions!

Wrist closure?
There are all kinds of straps and closure systems. Try on various styles to decide if you like the tighter wrist cuff or prefer a slit style opening that is wider and makes the glove easier to put on. Also, make sure the Velcro strap is easy to close and open with your gloves on and that it sticks down well. Nothing worse than a glove strap that doesn’t stay closed! Lastly, some wrist straps are thick stiff bands that offer extra wrist support while others are long elastic straps that need to be wrapped around your wrist multiple times. Again…it all comes down to personal preference and you will need to try them on to decide.

Proper Care

I like to break this down into 3 categories based on what I see. Which are you?

  • Rec Level – Wears gloves, throws in bag, leaves in trunk of car, takes out at next practice, repeat pattern. The result? Stiff, smelly gloves with dried out foam that disintegrates rapidly. One month later (or less) gk demands new pair from Mom & Dad. As if that is their responsibility to endlessly supply you with gloves?!?!? NOTE – parents do not fall for this rubbish!!! Hold your young gks responsible for their own equipment care!!!
  • Amateur Status – Wears gloves & occasionally throws in the washing machine or Mom washes gloves for you because she can no longer tolerate the smell.
  • Professional – Wears gloves and hand washes game gloves after every match. Washes practice gloves as needed as well (daily would be best, and weekly at a minimum).

It really is quite simple – the cleaner your gloves, the better they will feel on your hands, the better the grip, and the longer your gloves will last! So take the time to protect your investment! And you don’t need the fancy ‘glove wash’ products, so save your money for your next pair of gloves! You just need mild hand soap (like Dove) or a gentle liquid dish soap. Soak the glove thoroughly under running water and then apply the soap working it into the glove while pushing the dirt towards the edges with either the bar of soap, your fingers, or a wet cloth. BE GENTLE so you don’t stress the seams or destroy the foam, especially in areas that already show signs of wear like the fingertips. Rinse and repeat as needed until no more dirt or soap comes out of the glove when gently squeezed. Rinse THOROUGHLY as excess soap in the foam will lead to quicker degeneration of the foam. Lastly, allow the foam to air dry in a cool location away from any direct light. DO NOT place on a dryer vent! If the gloves are needed for use soon you can accelerate the drying time by tamping out moisture with a towel and then stuffing with paper towels or newspaper to pull out excess water.

NOTE – The older the pair of gloves the more reasonable it becomes to throw them in the washing machine. Washing machines are more vigorous, so they do stress the foam & stitching more than hand washing.

ADDITIONAL TIPS – When you wear your gloves don’t push up off the ground with your palms exposing them to more dirt than necessary. Use a closed fist or the back of your hand. And when you take your gloves off to get water or cool down place the palms together so the sun isn’t drying out the foam. Lastly, don’t store them in your car between uses! The high heat in your car will definitely accelerate the deterioration of the foam.

Now that you are armed with the basics of proper glove selection it is time to shop! There are a plethora of brands on the market, so there are more than enough choices out there. All the major brands carry several versions as multiple price points. The larger companies have the resources for more product research and design. Hence you will find more innovation, newer technology, and ever changing lines by these brands every season to improve fit, feel, and grip. That being said, don’t be sucked in by the big names and bypass the smaller lesser known brands! Glove myth #2 – The big name, more expensive gloves are better. The smaller, lesser known brands may not have the same marketing resources, but there are some very good gloves out there by some of the smaller brands that offer similar or better quality gloves for much less cost! Since gloves naturally wear out quickly these brands can be a great choice so you can invest in more pairs and get more for your dollar!

Also, despite what young players think, they don’t need the $150+ version of a glove that Hope Solo and Tim Howard wear. If your aspiring young soccer star really wants to wear what the pro’s wear have them come up with the price difference! Otherwise I suggest holding off on the high end gloves until they are done growing and at least 14+ years old. No need to buy the top end glove for your rec player who may decide to pick up tennis next season. You can easily find a quality glove in the mid-price range ($50-100). And if you are a savvy shopper you can find higher end models on closeout sales, online specials, or deals on last year’s models.

Lastly, the key to remember in all that you do is that you don’t have to BE a pro to ACT like a pro! Small steps every day on and off the field will help bring you closer to your goals. Your equipment, specifically your gloves, can either enhance of detract from your performance, so take the time to find the RIGHT fit for your hand and then take good care of them to maximize the grip and life of the glove!

When you look good, you feel better, you play your BEST!