How Are Football Cleats Different From Soccer Cleats?

We all know that cleats are part of the uniform if you’re a football player or a soccer player. But what you may never have thought about is that all cleats aren’t created equal. Sure, both football cleats and soccer cleats are supposed to make athletes faster and more stable. But as Popular Mechanics reports, there’s some “surprisingly sophisticated science” behind the design of those cleats.

Below, discover how football cleats are different from soccer cleats. And find out exactly why different players on the team wear different shoes.

Players choose their cleats based on their position on the field

Participants sit to hear Steve Clarkson speak at at Steve Clarkson's 14th Annual Quarterback Retreat
Participants sit to hear Steve Clarkson speak at Steve Clarkson’s 14th Annual Quarterback Retreat. | Meg Oliphant/ Getty Images

Popular Mechanics notes that manufacturers can produce cleats that are specifically tailored to a player’s position on the field. For instance, receivers wear different cleats than running backs and linebackers, who don’t wear the same cleats as players on the offensive and defensive lines. “Soccer is similar,” Popular Mechanics notes. “Attacking forwards, dynamic midfields, and steady defenders wear specific shoes.”

Just as the shoes themselves feature different materials depending on their intended purpose and position, the same holds true for the actual cleats. “Thermo nylon studs are rigid but lightweight for sudden propulsion,” Popular Mechanics notes. “TPU, meanwhile, offers a stable yet comfortable stud for a forgiving fit, more appropriate for a defender.”  The movement and weight of players also help determine the size and style of studs.

Football cleats come in three main styles, while soccer cleats come in one

Livestrong reports that because every player on a soccer team needs agility, all soccer cleats feature a low-cut style. (That enables maneuverability at the ankle.) Football cleats, on the other hand, come in three different styles. High-tops support the entire ankle. Linemen prefer this cut because of how well it supports the continuous lateral movements needed to play the position.

Mid-cut shoes surround only a portion of the ankle. They work best for players including defensive backs, running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks. This cut offers support. But it also allows more maneuverability than high-tops. However, some defensive backs favor the last style, low-cut shoes, because they’re lightweight to enable maximum running speed.

Soccer cleats feel lighter than football cleats

Another difference between football cleats and soccer cleats? As Livestrong reports, all soccer cleats feel lightweight, because just about everybody on the team is running continuously. They have rubber or polyurethane outsoles to make them both light and durable. The upper can be synthetic or leather. And soccer cleats don’t have midsoles because they need to keep the players’ feet — and center of gravity — low to the ground.

Football cleats, on the other hand, tend to have thicker outsoles and heavier construction. They come in leather and synthetic materials. While most soccer shoes have outsoles equipped with removable aluminum cleat caps, football cleats come in removable and molded varieties. Detachable cleats are made of rubber, hard plastic, or metal. And they come in a variety of lengths for use on different playing surfaces.

Football cleats have a toe stud that soccer cleats don’t

AZ Central reports that football cleats typically have a feature that soccer cleats don’t. Football shoes have a toe stud near the big toe, which enables players to get additional grip when they push off from a hunched position, such as a three-point stance. This toe cleat wouldn’t improve traction for soccer players. Plus, it could even injure an opponent during a slide tackle.

But in either sport, the type of field can affect the kind of footwear that players choose. Some soccer cleats work specifically on hard field conditions, such as dirt or hard-packed turf. Those shoes use shorter studs that won’t dig into the ground. Playing football on natural grass, on the other hand, requires a variety of lengths of studs as compared to playing on turf. Factors such as muddy fields or long grass can require even longer studs with additional traction.

Read more: The Most Important NFL Rules to Know If You’re a First-Time Football Fan