Most field sports require players to wear cleated footwear for grip, support and to be able to perform the various movements that the sports involve. Beginning as necessary garments to perform, footwear in sports are now hot commodities, with countless endorsements in every sport worth billions of dollars. Strictly speaking, the cleats are the studs or spikes on the outsole of the shoe. However, the term “cleat” is generally used to describe the whole shoe.
What is the difference between soccer cleats and other cleats? Nowadays, there are many similarities of design between the footwear worn by soccer, American football, lacrosse, and baseball/softball players. The main differences lie in the weight and cut-height of the shoe, as well as the shape, size and amount of cleats on the sole.
The main characteristics of a soccer cleat:
- Low cut.
- Made from materials suitable for striking a ball and constant movement.
Soccer players are of average height, have lean muscles and weigh around 170lbs. They run a whopping 7 miles in a 90-minute game. They are constantly on the move, either jogging, sprinting, walking or jumping. For this reason, soccer cleats are designed to be lightweight, comfortable, and give freedom of movement, whilst offering support and protection.
Soccer boots come in a few different forms. Some are based on different weather/pitch conditions:
- Long studded boots
- Molded stud boots
- Bladed boots
Another crucial element in the game of soccer is the act of striking a ball. The cleat must be made from suitable material for shooting and the position of the laces also plays a factor. Up until recently, leather was the material of choice. There are now synthetic materials available to achieve the same effect.
Types of Soccer Cleats
- Long studded boots: recommended for very grassy or wet pitches. These screw-on studs are made from a combination of metal and plastic. They can be replaced or changed to studs made from different materials (usually plastic or rubber). Screw-in studs can have a maximum length of 21mm.
- Molded stud boots: These are for firm ground or artificial turf. There are usually a high number of rounded ‘mouldies’.
- Bladed boots: For firm and artificial ground. They can also come with metal tips, suited for damper surfaces.
- Astroturf boots: Designed for playing on astroturf, they have shorter studs to grip the turf.
- Indoor and futsal cleats: The surface of these fields is hard and required flat soles with no studs. Rubberized for high grip.
Lacrosse cleats are more uniform:
- They are high-cut for stability and ankle support.
- They contain a toe cleat.
- The cleats are located on the edges of the sole.
Lacrosse cleats will cause problems when you are trying to pass the ball on the turf. With the position of their studs, when you swing underneath the ball, the studs will get caught in the turf, causing your pass or shot to go astray. The short studs will also cause problems when the turf is long or wet, causing you to lose balance or slip.
Baseball & Softball
Baseball/Softball cleats are known as ‘spikes’ and differ to soccer cleats:
- The spikes are hard and thin, designed for digging into sand or grass to increase traction.
- They’re made from rubber, plastic or metal.
- They have a higher ankle cut than soccer cleats.
- Molded stud models are available for artificial turf.
Baseball and softball cleats are designed to be worn on bare soil without any turf. This is the reason for the number of short, pointy studs so that they can grip the dusty surface. Some of the cleats have metal studs for extra grip which will be dangerous in soccer. With the higher ankle cut, it will limit the movement of the ankle, restricting some passing and shooting move.
American Football Cleats
These are often similar in appearance to soccer cleats but are functionally and structurally quite different:
- The formation of the cleats on the outsole is different and they have a toe stud for extra traction. This can impede a soccer player.
- The weight of the outsole us generally heavier to support a larger athlete that is making heavier collisions.
- Many football players wear high-cut cleats for extra support.
- Some wear mid-cut cleats for mobility with ankle support.
- Low-cut cleats are worn by some players.
American football cleats originated similarly to soccer cleats but have changed a lot since:
- The formation of the cleats on the outsole is different and they have a toe stud for extra traction.
- They’re heavier.
- They’re usually mid or high cut for extra ankle support.
Certain positions in American football, such as linemen, involve using a lot of force and contact to block and tackle. Players may find themselves up against a 300+lbs man. Therefore, the support and sturdiness of their cleats are of utmost importance. High cut boots are popular in such positions.
Running backs get hit a lot, but they must also be quick and agile. A mid-height cut cleat is popular for this position as it gives a balance of support and mobility. A few positions (such as receivers) wear low-cut, lightweight cleats (very similar to soccer cleats) for maximum mobility and speed.
Again, lacrosse and baseball have different requirements. Rapid direction changes and powerful explosive movements in lacrosse mean that a player should have higher ankle support. In baseball, players need to be able to dig their cleats into the ground for a more solid base from which they can generate powerful throws and swings.
Can I wear other cleats for soccer?
The main reasons for the cleats being different are to do with the nature of the sports. Although there are some similarities between the sports mentioned above, they are vastly different.
Performance: Soccer cleats are made for the sport so that the player competes at the highest level. With many sports brands designing cleats in a billion-dollar industry, the standards are the highest.
Once you have selected the correct soccer cleat for your field, the studs are designed for maximum grip. Acceleration is vital in soccer and with the wrong grip, you will slip and lose possession. Some cleats have extra long studs for grip and by wearing them, your feet will sink into the turf and feel heavy.
Striking the soccer ball is key. Some of the cleat mentioned above have a rim around the toe area and this will impede the strike.
Safety: You can easily cause yourself an injury by slipping on the turf. Plus, if you are unable to control yourself when running at top speed, this can endanger an opponent. Sometimes accidentally, studs will catch another player, when you are kicking the ball or sliding. Some of the studs used in the other games are not designed with the possibility.
Laws: Before the start of each soccer game, the officials check the cleats of the players. When a substitute is coming on the field, the official asks the player to show the bottom of the player’s cleats, to make sure that they are suited to the game.
If you don’t have the correct cleats when playing, it is like you will be asked to leave the field and change them. If that is not possible, then you will have to be substituted.
It is possible that you can wear some of the mentioned cleats playing soccer against friends, but it is not advised because of performance and safety reasons.
History of the soccer cleats
We are now going to look at why soccer cleats are designed the way they are, and what makes them different from cleats worn in other sports. We’ll also look into the fascinating history of the ‘football boot’ and what it has become in today’s game.
Soccer, as it’s known today, began to grow in popularity in the 1800s throughout Britain. It was midway through this century that the official Cambridge Rules were first established. Originally, players wore work boots when playing. These were thick leather boots with steel toe caps and often had metal studs or spikes added to them to give extra support.
As the sport got more popular in the late 1800s, there came the need to develop footwear specially designed for soccer. The first ‘football boots’ were similar to workboots in that they were leather but the material ran higher up the ankle for added support and the studs were incorporated into the design.
1900 – 1940s
Much of the soccer-playing world was at war during this period meaning there was a lack of development in the soccer equipment industry. However, the sport continued to grow and several new soccer brands began to emerge.
1940 – 1960s
The first major development of the soccer cleat occurred in this era. A lighter and more malleable shoe was created with a view to improving players’ kicking ability, power, and overall control, rather than protecting the feet. The cleat had a lower ankle cut than before.
This period also saw the rise of two brands that would have a significant impact on world sports for decades to come – Adidas and Puma. The origin story of these two companies is a very interesting one, involving the falling out of two brothers. Adidas introduced the first screw-in studs for the 1954 World Cup Winning German team, to great effect due to the amount of rain that fell throughout the tournament.
The 1970s and 1980s
With the 70s and 80s came an influx of modern brands and designs. Cleats were made in many styles and colors. Leather became the primary material used. Cleats were now being designed and manufactured for performance, comfort, and style.
The first modern classics came into popularity: Puma Kings and Adidas Copa Mundials. These cleats are still popular today. Both of these designs came with the choice of steel or rubber molded studs. It was becoming common to have a choice of stud types and lengths.
The 90s became the first era where the biggest footballing stars were being endorsed to wear a specific brand. Soccer, and in particular, the English Premier League was growing due to large TV broadcasting deals. Players and what they wore were becoming topics of discussion and so, cleats became a very valuable asset for brands.
Perhaps the most iconic cleat series of all time was born in 1994: The Predator. This unique design featured rubber ridges on the front and instep of the shoe, to give added control, power, and spin.
Predators established themselves as industry leaders and quickly became synonymous with certain players, like David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Steven Gerrard, Alessandro Del Piero, and Raul.
The Adidas predator came in many different ranges from ‘94 until ‘15 when they were discontinued. However, they have since been reintroduced and remain a top-selling cleat.
The turn of the millennium brought further developments to soccer cleats. They became lighter and more flexible. Predators continued to dominate the market but Nike and their Mercurial range were also major players. Advancements in technology meant that players could have their cleats custom molded to fit their every need. Complete customization became readily available.
The 2010s continued in the same vein as the 2000s as the game developed to be more technical and less physical. Cleats have become lighter and lighter over the years, with the emphasis being placed on technical performance, speed, and agility.
Modern soccer fields are of the highest quality so the soles of the cleats are now equipped with blades and short studs made from plastic and rubber. It’s become commonplace for players to have their own signature cleat. Marketing and promotion in the social media era mean there is widespread advertising of soccer cleats.
2020 and beyond…
What’s the next big advancement in the game with regard to soccer cleats? With sports science, statistics, and the most minute details now having a major influence on the game, perhaps certain technologies to track in-game performance will be incorporated into the shoe. Valuable analytics on movement, power, and technique may well be at our feet… literally.
What’s the most popular cleat of all time? The Adidas Copa Mundial is the best selling soccer cleat of all time. However, the Adidas Predator range is among the best selling cleats worldwide currently.
What’s the lightest cleat available? The Adizero 99g by Adidas is the lightest cleat ever, weighing 99 grams. However, there is limited availability of the item, with only 299 sizes 9s created. It weighs around half of the average cleat.
Can players wear any boot, no matter their position? Yes. In days of old, defenders and the ‘no frills’ types frequently wore a standard, non-flashy cleat. Strikers and creative players were the main users of stylish and flashy cleats. Nowadays, players in all positions wear different types of footwear. Much of this comes down to endorsements. At the highest level, players most likely have customized cleats so theirs may be slightly different from the standard model.