Soccer's Little Secret

By Jim Paglia 

My daughter, like many girls today, was physically an early bloomer. I remember hearing a boy at school teasing her about her breasts as an eight year-old. That is when I became aware of soccer's little secret - unisex sizing! 

A worker is only as good as HIS tools. That expression has been around for generations. Athletic shoe manufacturers invest tens of millions of dollars in research and development. Apparel and uniform companies roll out lightweight, space-age materials with moisture wicking properties that the manufacturers tell us is like wearing next to nothing. We are led to believe the never-ending quest for better performance comes from what we wear. 

Whether footwear or uniforms, the experts would have us believe that what you wear is critically important to on-field performance. That is of course, if you are a male. Female performance must not be affected by apparel, or why else would the uniform companies and soccer clubs continue to encourage unisex (male) sizing so often?

I read a statistic the other day that 52% of America's youth soccer players are females. In what other sport do the athletes who make up more than half the active population wear apparel designed to fit the minority? Imagine all college basketball players being required to wear uniforms designed for players under 5'9". 

Most clubs outfit teams of both genders in uniforms cut for males. The old school of thinking was "Just order the girls a size or two smaller." Many club administrators believe that until the girls start to develop around "10 or 12," there really isn't much of a difference between the sexes. A sports bra is all they need. This is blatantly false. Girl's are proportioned differently -- hips, shoulders, arms, legs -- it is all different. 

Clubs do not want to inventory multiple sizes. The soccer specialty retailers who sell uniforms and most of the large manufacturers discourage clubs from ordering female sizes and cuts of uniforms because the truth is, they tend to offer only a fraction of their line in those options. In other words, most manufacturers only offer the majority of their designs and colors in male versions. 

Not wanting to draw attention to this little known secret, most manufacturer's and soccer specialty retailers go out of their way to discourage clubs from considering properly fitted uniforms for their female players by raising the club inventory control concerns, by inflating the prices, and requiring longer lead times on orders of female uniforms. 

How bad is the problem? Male jerseys are designed with broader shoulders and longer sleeves, even in short-sleeved styles. In an effort to compensate for shoulder seams that often fall to the middle of their biceps, girls created an entirely new fashion by wearing Velcro® sleeve wraps to compensate. Doubt it? Have you ever seen guys wearing them? 

I'm issuing a challenge to all you male administrators and coaches who think I'm whining about a non-issue. Wear male shorts that either are two sizes too big, or if you dare, two sizes too small, but put them on BACKWARDS and hike them up as high as they will go, then play for 30 minutes. Note the level of discomfort, and you will begin to understand a small measure of what girls go through. 

Girls generally need a longer seam in the seat, and a shorter one in the front. Boy's shorts are not cut that way. Girls need a bit more width in the hips than boy's shorts typically offer. There are a vast number of differences in how boy's and girls jerseys differ in construction. Again, I urge adults who are involved in the uniform purchase to play a game in a jersey that is two or three sizes too large. It's uncomfortable and distracting at best.

The challenge to manufacturers is to insure they serve all their soccer customers with properly cut, comfortable uniforms. 

Moms, dads and players who are assured by your clubs that they deeply value and respect ALL their players equally, should insist that the club offer female uniforms. If they do not, I urge you to find another club. If the manufacturers are to be believed, a worker is only as good as HER tools.

Jim Paglia is a nationally recognized brand strategist who lives outside Chicago. He has an extensive background in soccer ranging from the NASL, to NCAA Division I, to World Cup 1994, and 30 years of club administration and coaching. Contact Jim at



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