TYING SOCCER SHOE LACES
As simple as it may sound, the primary objective of tying soccer shoe laces properly is to keep the shoes firmly on the feet during play, especially by minimizing the chances that the laces become untied. This is the only real requirement for children. For serious youth players and for advanced players, however, other objectives based on personal preference apply, including such things as where the knots are tied and whether or not to wrap the laces under the arch of the foot. It is also very important that the laces be replaced regularly to keep them from breaking. Clearly, lacing is a function of the shoe involved. The focus here is on outdoor cleats. See the article on “Outdoor Soccer Shoes (‘Cleats’).”
For children, laces should be placed in the eyelets of soccer shoes using a traditional, alternating, criss-cross (“crossed-x”) lacing pattern. They should first be loose enough for the foot to be easily placed in a properly-fitted shoe. After putting the shoe on, the first most important requirement to keep the shoe from coming off is for the laces to be tightened firmly, from the toes to the ankle (bottom-up) at every criss-cross. The lacing should then be completed with a traditional bow-knot at the top. The second most important requirement to keep the shoes from coming off is for the ends of the bows to be tied again, or firmly double-knotted, creating a “granny knot.”
The laces need to be long enough to allow for the double-knotting to be done easily, but not so long that there is a bunch of extra lace that can flap around or get caught under the sole of the shoe. If the laces that came with the shoe are not the proper length, either too short or too long for the tying to be accomplished correctly, new laces will have to be purchased. Children can be taught how to tie soccer shoe laces properly. Experience has shown, however, that children will generally just want to pull the upper ends of the laces, rather than tightening from the bottom-up, and to not perform the double-knot at all. As such, parents need to tie the soccer shoes for their children every time, before both practices and games, until the children can demonstrate that they can and will tie the laces properly.
The first progression of tying the laces of soccer shoes for serious youth players involves the actual placement of the laces in the shoes themselves. In general, if the laces are already in the shoes when the shoes are purchased, the laces should be removed entirely. After doing so, first find the mid-point of a lace by holding it up in the middle and then moving one end until both lengths are equal. Second, thread the lace from underneath both of the eyelets nearest the toe of the shoe so that the midpoint is equally between them. Third, criss-cross the lace consistently right-over-left from underneath each eyelet from the toes to ankle, ensuring that there are no twists. Fourth, select the desired top eyelets, if the shoe design provides this option. Fifth, when actually putting the shoe on, tighten each criss-cross from the bottom-up, create the bow-tie, and then double-knot, as described above.
The next progression for tying the laces of soccer shoes for serious youth players involves the placement of the double knot. The laces should be drawn tight from the bottom to the top of the shoes, as before, but the traditional bow-knot at the top should be made at the farthest point to the outside of each foot that the shoe will allow. The laces should then be double-knotted at this point on the shoe. This keeps the knot from being located on top of the instep, which reduces the impact of the knot on an instep-drive kick, and improves the player’s “feel” for his contact with the ball. It is emphasized here that the distance the knot can be moved away from the midline of the instep is restricted by the top edge of the shoe at the eyelet.
For advanced players, the potential influence of the laces, especially on the instep drive and the feel for the ball, becomes paramount. This may include wanting to move the double-knot farther away from the midline of the instep than the last eyelet of the shoe can allow. In addition, a player’s shoe may get “raked” by an opponent’s cleats during play, so it is extremely important that the laces be tied in such a way that they can withstand this worst case scenario for becoming untied. One of the methods for addressing these issues is the use of extra-long laces that go around the arch of the foot and the use of a “surgeon’s knot” as an intermediate step in tying the laces. This method requires some trial-and-error to meet the preferences of the wearer.
To use this method, the extra-long laces must first be obtained. They are then placed in the shoes using the same approach described above for serious players, identifying the midline and criss-crossing them through the eyelets, ensuring that there are no twists.* At this point, however, after putting the shoes on and tightening the laces, instead of creating the traditional bow-tie knot, a “surgeon’s knot” is used. The surgeon’s knot in this case involves creating the first twist, like the start of a bow-tie knot, but, instead of continuing with the bow-tie knot, a second twist is added. After pulling these twists tight, each end of the laces is respectively placed under the arch and around to the other side of the foot. It is very important that the closest lace to each side of the foot goes around from that direction. Crossing back over the knot creates a big lump and defeats the purpose of a tight, smooth surface.
After bringing the laces back to the top of the shoe, the location for the final knot can now be determined by the wearer because it is no longer forced to be at the last eyelet. It is expected that it will be placed further to the outside of each shoe. Once this location is determined, a traditional bow-tie knot and double-knotting is used to complete the tying. The surgeon’s knot has the effect of keeping the laces tight while taking the pressure off the ultimate bow-tie knot, and keeping the top surface of the instep smooth for kicking. Again, the laces must be long enough to allow for this method to be used properly, with sufficient length for the last double-knot to be performed easily, but not so long that there is extra length to create problems.
For the most serious advanced player using this method, one part of each lace on either side of the midline may need to be lengthened to accommodate the extra amount needed for the draw-over from the inside to the outside of the foot, after going under the arch. Again, this is likely to involve some trial and error and is clearly determined at the start of the lacing. If a player doesn’t want the hassle of trying to figure out which end comes out where, he can do the lacing equally and then pull the laces through the eyelets to create the adjustment. It should be clear that the lacing of the left shoe will be different from the lacing of the right shoe and that one brand or model of shoe will be different from another brand or model.
Some shoes have other features that may affect lacing. The most common of these are tongue holes (tongue loops, “tongue-fastening systems,” tongue ties, tongue catches, tongue grabs) and tongue flaps. A tongue hole is a special loop intentionally cut into the tongue of the shoe, usually measuring less than ¼-inch wide by ½-inch long, and normally located nearer to the top of the tongue (closer to the ankle), which opens the top leather of the tongue, but stays above the padding underneath. Because this feature keeps the tongue from slipping to either side, or from sliding down toward the toes, it should definitely be used. In order to do so, each lace of the criss-cross that directly matches up with the tongue hole should be inserted underneath the loop. If the loop does not match up exactly, then the criss-cross closest to the ankle, just above the loop, should be used.
A tongue flap is an extension of the tongue which is expected to be folded over the knots of the laces once they have been tied. Like tying the knots to the outside of the shoe, the use of a tongue flap is intended to create a smoother surface for the instep by covering the knots. Use of a shoe with a tongue flap is a personal preference, but the flaps have been known to flop up and down, which can be disconcerting to some players. In order to address this flopping, some players have been known to tie their laces over top of the flaps, but this completely negates their intended function. If players don’t like the flaps, they can either be cut off or shoes should be purchased which don’t have them.
Other forms of lace coverings include lace “sleeves,” “knot covers,” or “sweetspot” coverings. All of these are not part of the original shoe and basically consist of a rubberized, slip-on cylinder designed to cover the laces and knot of the shoes while going under the arch of the shoe. Some of these coverings may further make a claim that they provide an improved “gripping” ability when striking the ball, but there is no agreed-upon, scientific evidence that this is true. Also, some of these coverings may interfere with some cleats. Players have further been known to address laces coming untied or keeping knots and/or flaps in place by taping over them and under the arch of the shoe with athletic strapping tape. This approach may become problematic because, if the laces are somehow affected during play, getting the tape off in order to make a repair can be difficult and time consuming. Further, the tape may become loose and come off during play.
*There are alternative ways to lace shoes, other than the criss-cross method. The “box-thread” method involves a.) placing one end of the lace up the tongue of the shoe while taking the other across the tongue and under each eyelet, or b.) using alternate eyelets up both edges of the shoe. Either approach results in a lace that goes directly across from one eyelet to each of its matching pair, making the overall effect look like the rungs of a ladder.
Soccer Coaching Tips:
– Players and parents need to be informed that there are no stoppages or “equipment time outs” for shoes coming off or laces becoming untied. Players have to move out of play or be substituted. Coaches may inform parents of young children that, if this happens, the child is expected to immediately go to the parent for help. Children should not expose un-shod feet to kicking or contact.
– Proper shoes must be selected first, before worrying about laces. New laces don’t fix the problems of old or ill-fitted shoes.
– Before tight lacing of shoes is done, players must ensure that their socks have no kinks in them and that, if “stirrup-style” shinguards are used, the stirrup is not kinked under the arch of the foot.
– Proper lacing will make the shoe feel tight, like a “second skin,” which does not allow any slippage of the shoe on the foot.
– Laces break. It is absolutely necessary that backup laces are available.
– Aglets (the tips covering the ends of the laces) break. When this happens, the laces need to be immediately replaced before the next practice or game. If this happens and the lace comes out of an eyelet, it is almost impossible to get the lace back through the eyelet in a hurry.
– Laces should never be placed around the ankles. If the laces get snagged by an opponent’s cleats, or if the shoe is somehow pulled off during play, the laces around the ankle can cause a devastating injury to the Achilles tendon.
– It is especially hard to work with wet shoes and wet laces, particularly in an urgent situation during a game. This is yet another good reason to keep laces new.
© Copyright, John C. Harves