Whether a child participating in athletics should wear spiked shoes is one of the most common questions we get asked.
It’s a topic that I researched in great detail about a decade ago, when I was employed by Little Athletics Australia. Part of my role was to developed standardised Competition Rules for Little Athletics, including at what age and in what events children can wear spiked shoes.
Those rules say that children can wear spikes in the following events:
- Under 10 and below: Cannot wear spikes in any event.
- Under 11 and Under 12: In track events run entirely in lanes and long jump, triple jump, high jump and javelin.
- Under 13 upwards: In all track events (except the walk!?!) and long jump, triple jump, high jump and javelin.
But that doesn’t at all answer the question of whether your child needs spikes, just if they can wear them. So here’s some further perspectives for you to consider:
A child is not a miniature adult.
Children have different physiological, psychological and emotional needs and characteristics than adults.
Consider that in relation to athletics, which is often described as a late maturation sport i.e. unlike some sports, like gymnastics, peak performance levels in the sport don’t occur until an athlete is in their 20’s, or even older. For example, at the pinnacle of the sport (which less than 0.1% of participants will ever achieve), the average age of athletics competitors at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was 26.
In all likelihood, if you are reading this article considering the needs of your child, they have a 10 to 15 years or more in the sport before they would be achieving their full potential. Conversely, athletics is littered with the names of athletes who were record setters at a young age, who never continued in the sport as an adult due to pressure, injury or burnout.
Children should participate in a wide range of sports. If they are doing athletics, hopefully they have first been involved in a games based, skill development program, before progressing to try a wide range of events, rather than specialising in just a few. In recent years Athletics Australia has developed excellent Junior Sport Guidelines that provides some further information, or for a quicker read, have a look at Little Athletics’ Development Policy (which I also wrote, at the same time as developing the standard competition rules).
There’s a big different between a want and a need.
Really poor reasons to buy your child their first pair of spikes include:
- You want to see them win; and/or
- Other kids their age have spikes.
Some good reasons to consider buying your child a pair of spikes include:
- Your child is really enjoying athletics, and has started to train a few times a week under the guidance of a qualified athletics coach.
- They are starting to focus on achieving their personal bests across a range of events, as part of their enjoyment and motivation for the sport;
- Your child has good coordination and is starting to progress from a working model of athletics events, to technical models with their coach.
What do we mean by working model and technical model? We’ll use a simplified example of the long jump to illustrate the point.
A working model of the long jump might involve the little athlete using a run-up with the number of steps equal to the athlete’s age, focusing on not looking down at the take-off area, and landing softly, with knees bent, so as to not fall backwards on landing.
In contrast, some of what would be involved in a technical model for long jump would be: a run-up that involves gradual acceleration to the board without any deceleration, a longer penultimate stride and shorter final stride to lower the centre of gravity before take-off, a ‘hang’ or ‘hitch kick’ technique in flight and a landing technique to minimise loss of distance. Quite a difference!
Wearing spikes while using a working model for an event just isn’t required. Even if you take a purely performance centric viewpoint, far greater improvements in performance will come from enjoying the sport and progressing to training under a technical model with the guidance of a coach, than putting on new type of shoes.
For good measure, we’ll reiterate our earlier comment, that children are not miniature adults.
So while adult athletes might wear event-specific spikes for sprints or jumps, or fancy carbon plated spikes, your child does not need these.
In fact, it’s not just that they don’t need these… they should not wear them.
Sprint spikes, for example, are rigid and without a heel, placing lots of stress on the Achilles tendon, particularly one in a growing body.
Children are best served by sturdy shoes suitable for a range of events. They will have a heel and will look similar to the ‘waffle’ type shoes that your child may be graduating from. Below is a generic example of a good first spike.
if my child isn’t going to wear spikes, what type of shoes should they wear?
Most major shoe companies produce a ‘waffle’ athletics shoe that are perfect for younger athletes. These shoes have a good sole and heel on them, while having the grip required for sprinting and jumping.
okay, i’ve decided i’m going to buy my child a pair of spikes
Here’s a couple of things to consider to ensure it’s a positive experience.
Spikes are sharp. They can cause injury (punctures, cuts) to your child or to others if they aren’t careful. To minimise the risk of these injuries, spiked shoes should only be put on just before an event and then taken off as soon as practical after an event.
Having a bag to put the shoes in between events is useful. But even within a bag, the spikes can sometimes protrude, causing cuts if your child falls on to the bag or swings it around while walking.
A good tip to avoid this is to buy a cheap sponge and have your child sandwich it between the spike plates of the shoes when they put them in their spikes bag. This way, the spikes will be facing inwards away from the edge of the bag. Additionally, it will help absorb any moisture on the spikes, preventing rusting from occurring (but please make sure they still air out the shoes when you get home!).
How to replace spikes and what to do if they get stuck
We have a detailed guide you might like to read, which also includes information on how to maximise the lifespan of spikes. It’s available here.
Type of spike
By this, we are referring to the replacement metal pieces that screw into the spike plate of the shoe. There are different styles and sizes of spikes, for different events and surfaces.
You can take our quick 30 second quiz to determine the best style of spike.
But for an athlete’s first pair of spikes, you can’t go wrong with either of the below choices:
- For use on synthetic tracks: 6mm Pyramid Spikes
- For use on grass tracks: 12mm Grass Spikes or 9mm Field Event/Cross Country Spikes
It is important to wear longer spikes on a grass track. 6mm spikes are simply too short to have any real effect on grass. We also suggest buying durable steel spikes, rather than lightweight performance alternatives, so that you maximise their lifespan.
Like our content? Please subscribe to our mailing list or share our content with your friends.