Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Real Referee Shoes

As referees, I think it is time we get realistic about our footwear selection.  Selecting a pair of shoes to referee in is difficult as there just aren't many shoes available that meet both our cosmetic and performance requirements.
So what makes a good referee shoe?  We have to worry about two broad categories of requirements.  First, the shoe has to look appropriate for a referee.  If you refer to the Referee Administrative Handbook, you'll find a section called "Standards of Dress and Appearance Official U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Uniform."  In that section, appropriate referee shoes are described as follows:
"BLACK SHOES: (may have white manufacturers design) with black laces"
There isn't much room for interpretation in that.  Our shoes must be black, but can have some white in them.
Regarding performance, I want to address a myth here.  I think we would all agree that we are not players.  We have no reason to kick the ball.  So why do we often wear shoes designed for players?  Players don't normally run more than 1 game in a day.  I have often done 7 in a day.  Player shoes are designed for touch on the ball.  We don't kick the ball, ever.  Player shoes should be light weight, so they often don't have much in the way of comfort features.  Wearing player shoes as a referee never made much sense to me.  Yes, we require some traction on wet fields.  That said, I think a referee shoe needs to be more like a trail running shoe, supporting our primary active on the field...running. It is really tough to find a pair of shoes that meet these criteria.  There just aren't a lot of shoes that come in black anymore.  There are plenty of trail running shoes I could use for refereeing, but few come in black.  I have never found a pair of turf or soft ground shoes that had any kind of comfort features. They often have no support and no cushion.
My referee shoe
I was discussing this problem with my sons and they pointed out  Nike Id is a program offered by Nike, the shoe manufacturer.  The program allows the creation of semi-custom shoes by the customer.  The website allows you to select from a subset of the various Nike products, customize the product features and then order your creation.
Pictured, you will see the referee shoe I created.  It is a Nike Air Pegasus+ running shoe.  I added a trail running outsole and a "trail mesh" upper.  I then selected black for most of the colors, with the exception of the company logo and the sock liner.  I even added my initials to the tongue, in place of the Nike logo.  I visited a local retailer to try on a similar model to confirm my size.  It seems this model sizing runs similar to other running shoes.
It took about 2-3 weeks for the shoes to be manufactured and delivered.  First, I wore them around the house and out on a few errands to break them in a little.  To be honest, they really didn't need it.  They were comfortable from the moment I put them on.
I used them for 4 games this past weekend.  I really like them.  My feet didn't hurt as much as they often do after a bunch of games.  The shoes are really light and have great arch support and cushioning (maybe a little too much for me?)  The fabric seems like it will clean up easy.  The build quality of the shoe seems excellent.
The price of this particular model was $115.  At first, I thought that was kind of expensive.  After all, you can get other "referee shoes" for $70 or $80.  Then it occurred to me that I pay about $130 for my running shoes, and I buy 2 or 3 pairs of those in  a year.  When you look at it that way, it is a pretty good deal.