Sports

Shin Guard Revolution

By reimagining a vital piece of equipment, a Whitefish company is gaining footing throughout the soccer world

There are lots of reasons why Whitefish-based Legend Soccer Co.’s bamboo shin guards surpass the competition, according to the company’s founders.

But to anyone who’s been around a soccer bag or locker room before, there’s one reason that might be particularly appealing.

“I don’t know if you’ve been around kids that stink with shin guards,” co-founder Sean Person said. “All of a sudden parents are coming in, flooding, asking us, ‘Yeah, these don’t even smell!’ That was just one other bonus, and that’s because of the bamboo.”

Person and Roland Benedict started Legend Soccer in 2014 after complaining together one night about the state of shin guards in their favorite sport, including their propensity to absorb and retain sweat. Benedict, who is the Whitefish High School girls soccer coach, and Person both played collegiately, and Benedict had a brief stint as a professional, but neither could figure out why one of the few pieces of soccer equipment hadn’t been improved upon in ages.

“First of all, shin guards suck,” Benedict said. “Second, why haven’t they made it out of anything else?”

Traditional shin guards, rectangular and heavy, are worn to lessen the effect of any impact a player takes during a match, but most pairs are a headache to wear. They feel unnatural, can slide around during the course of play, and are often the culprit when balls deflect erratically off a player’s leg.

So Benedict and Person, neither of whom comes from an engineering background, took a shot at designing an all-new shin guard with two goals in mind. Their product had to be lighter and thinner than what players were wearing currently, and it had to come from a more sustainable product than plastic, which most shin guards are made from.

“There’s about 200 million pounds of plastic shin guards that have been made in the last 30 years,” Person said. “So we (thought), ‘Could we use a different material?’ And bamboo ended up being the perfect material for it.”

The pair started with other woods before finding bamboo — which, Benedict pointed out, is not a wood but a grass — and in the early days used a local Montana manufacturer to produce and test some prototypes. All the while, they took feedback from friends around the soccer world and worked to find a manufacturer in the United States who could bring the product to a larger audience. With an assist from Montana West Economic Development, they found a manufacturer in Michigan in 2016 and perfected the process six months ago. The new version of shin guard, while similar in shape and still made from bamboo, is lighter and thinner than the one they first rolled out.

Aside from its sustainable material, the shin guard’s shape is just as revolutionary. It’s what Benedict and Person call a “teardrop design,” one that tapers off toward the bottom of the leg to contour better to the shin’s natural shape. It’s why, according to Benedict, the shin guard remains locked in place throughout a long match. That’s something even professional players who have tried the product have noticed.

“The product speaks for itself,” Benedict said. “It not only looks gorgeous … But the players, they wear them, and the feedback I got from our MLS player is he loves the size — they’re not too big, they’re not too small, they don’t move. He loves the weight and he loves the bamboo. He fell in love with them right away and is super passionate about the product.”

Benedict and Person said a handful of professional players are wearing the shin guards, which are FIFA approved, and they expect an MLS all-star to sign an endorsement contract with the company in the coming days.

“Bringing on athletes into our brand is huge,” Person added.

In the meantime, Legend Soccer Co. shin guards are available on the company’s website, www.legendsoccer.com. The shin guards are $59 and can be fully customized with team crests and text.

“For a soccer player, you need three pieces of equipment,” Benedict said. “You need a ball, you need cleats, you need shin guards … It’s the only piece of equipment a player wears and it protects the area that we play with, so why not spend and invest money on something that’s going to protect a child?”

andy@flatheadbeacon.com

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