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Make sure your kids have the proper gear

I see it at the beginning of every season, no matter what the sport. At least one child on every team shows up with the wrong equipment or, in some cases, no equipment at all.

The most popular spring sports are baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer and roller hockey. One would think common sense tells you what equipment to buy, but experience consistently proves me wrong.

One season, a baseball player showed up without a glove. Another season, a roller hockey player came dressed in jeans and with no helmet. And there are always a few soccer players with no shin guards.

So what should your child bring?

I tell parents the first thing they should ask at registration is what equipment the league will provide and what needs to be purchased. In the 1970s, baseball teams provided everything but gloves. Nowadays, in most leagues, every player is expected to have a bat, glove and, in some cases, a helmet.

And don't be surprised if your kid is the only one without batting gloves if he doesn't own a pair. Lastly, make sure your 7-year-old baseball player doesn't bring his tee-ball bat to practice. It is made to hit a stationary ball, not a pitched one.

Roller hockey requires roller blades, shoulder pads, shin guards, elbow pads, hockey gloves, a helmet and stick. And please don't think a bike helmet will suffice. The face mask on the front of the hockey helmet is just as important as the helmet itself. You can usually buy a starter's set for about $100 that has all the padded protective gear, but don't buy the most expensive pair of skates you can find -- remember, he might not like the sport.

Lacrosse requires the same protective gear as roller hockey, except the cage of the helmet is a little longer to protect the neck from flying sticks and balls. Because of the high costs of lacrosse equipment, many leagues have loaner programs, especially for kids playing for the first time. Soccer cleats can be worn for lacrosse, so don't let your son talk you into buying lacrosse cleats if his soccer cleats still fit.

For roller hockey and lacrosse, a mouthpiece probably will be required. When your child asks why he has to wear one when the face mask protects his mouth, you can tell him it's to keep his teeth from "colliding" during a fall, a primary cause of concussions.

Soccer is a little simpler -- basically, you just need shin guards. They come in different styles and prices. I like the ones that are stitched into a sock. For a few dollars more they will stay in place much easier (and keep your child's shins safer) than the cheaper plastic ones that you just slide under your sock.

Hopefully these few hints will make your child's first day of practice a little less stressful and, more importantly, much safer.