Sports equipment buying guide

 

If you're taking up or taking seriously a racket sport or cricket, there are several factors to be taken into consideration when you choose a racket or bat, and there's add-on equipment to buy too. You'll need to consider your style of play and ability level, so you can match what you choose to suit you best and start to see improvements.

Squash

The construction of and the technology used in a squash racket is similar to that of a tennis racket. However, it's more fragile than a tennis racket, so if you're a regular squash player, you'd probably want to replace your racket once a year.

Weight

Most squash rackets weigh between 110 and 220g, with most players opting for a mid-weight racket weighing between 130 and 160g.

  • Light rackets (less than 130g) - give you more control and allow you to feel the ball as it's hit. It also means you need to generate power for the shot, so a good level of technique and skill is required to avoid any loss of control with power shots
  • Mid rackets (130-160g) - offer a good compromise between the control of a light racket and the power gained from a heavy one. If you're a beginner, start with a mid-weight racket so you can concentrate on controlling the ball without needing to exert extra power into each shot
  • Heavy rackets (160g plus) - will give you more power behind each shot, but this comes at the expense of control

Head size

The bigger the head of the racket, the bigger the effective hitting area or sweetspot will be. A racket with a bigger sweetspot allows you to use a larger hitting area, and so is more forgiving on shots that aren't hit from the middle of the racket. This makes them ideal for beginners, as they allow for a greater margin of error.

Rackets with smaller heads are really only suited to more experienced players as it requires a greater skill level to be able to hit the ball in the centre of the racket every time. A smaller sweetspot, in the hands of the right player, will give more power and control to shots.


Head shape

A common feature of the head shape on a squash racket is the throat design. There are 2 shapes:

Closed throat - the racket will have a smaller string-bed, which in turn decreases the sweetspot and allows for more control

Open throat - the racket will have a larger string bed to reduce off-centre shots and produce more power

Grip

You don't need to worry about the grip size when buying a squash racket, as you can easily modify this by replacing the grip, building up thickness or reshaping it to your own personal preference.

Balls and protective gear

Again you need to find the right ball to use for your standard of play. Squash balls vary in their construction; some are faster to suit more experienced players, intermediate players use slightly slower balls, whereas improvers should use slightly larger, slower balls in order to develop the correct technique.

Goggles are an important part of your squash kit owing to the risk of serious eye injury whilst playing - goggles can play a big part in preventing that.

Tennis

Weight

In recent years, tennis rackets in general have become lighter following improvements in materials and technology. The weight of racket you need is dependent on your ability level.

  • Heavy rackets (weighing at least 312g) are the best weight for a beginner as they offer more power and transfer less shock than lighter rackets.
  • Light rackets (255-266g) provide better shot control
  • Mid-weight rackets (278-309g) offer a balance of control and power, allowing for a faster swing and making them more suited to an experienced player.

Head size

The head of a tennis racket is the hitting plane inside the head of the racket. The head size you require from a tennis racket is again dependent not only on your ability level, but also on your style of play.

  • Large head (683-870cm²) rackets give a large sweet spot, making them more powerful and stable for off-centre shots - ideal for beginners.
  • Medium head (600-683cm²) rackets are great for intermediate players, as they give a good balance between power and control.
  • Small head (542-600cm²) rackets are best for advanced players who want the control but don't need any additional power.

Grip size

The size of the grip on your racket makes a big difference to how a racket feels. If it doesn't fit properly, it can be the cause of so-called "tennis elbow".

We offer four grip sizes; size 1 is 105mm, size 2 is 108mm, size 3 is 111mm and size 4 is 114mm.

To work out your grip size, hold your hand flat and line up a ruler on your palm. Measure from the middle crease of your palm up the line between your middle and ring fingers to a point equal to the height of the tip of your ring finger. This is roughly the right grip size, but if you're between sizes, opt for the smaller grip as you can add width to it.

Junior rackets

Junior rackets come in sizes and weights specifically designed for future tennis stars. For those just getting going, a starter set is a good idea, with youth-sized balls and a water bottle so they can get a feel for the game.

To work out the ideal size for a junior racket the best criteria to use is height.

  • Players between 4'6" to 5' should opt for either a 25" frame or 26"
  • Players between 4' and 4'5" should use a 23" frame
  • Any players below 3'11" should use a 21" frame or smaller

To instil good habits in young beginners, junior tennis rackets from Babolat have a memory grip to indicate how to hold the racket for backhand and forehand shots. Starter tennis balls are low compression and 25% lighter than conventional balls so they'll help a beginner to maintain controlled bounce and speed.

Badminton

Badminton rackets are made up of 3 parts - the head (hitting surface), the shaft and the handle. Rackets with heavy heads have more swing momentum, so are more suitable for attacking, power hitters as there will be more weight behind each shot. Rackets which are more evenly balanced between the head and the rest of the racket are faster and more flexible, making it easier to control your shots.

Racket head shape

There are two different head shapes for badminton rackets - classic, which is rounder, and isometric which is squarer. Most rackets are isometric as it provides a larger effective hitting area.

Balance

The balance point will usually lie on the shaft of the racket and is measured from the handle end. Generally, a balance point will lie between 290-310 mm. A higher value and therefore a balance point closer to the head of the racket will make it more head-heavy, and so suited to players looking to play with power. A lower value means that the balance point is closer to the handle, and so is designed for players wanting to control their shots more accurately.

Adding grip to the racket handle will alter the balancing point of the racket. If you want to add an element of control to your racket, you should add more grip, but use a lightweight grip if you want to add power.

Weight of the racket

Rackets are constructed from steel, aluminium, graphite or composite materials. If you're a junior or recreational player, start with a steel or aluminium frame which is heavier and so will give you more stability. As you progress, gradually move towards lighter weight rackets so that the wrist rather than the arm muscle that develops.

Lighter rackets will weigh less than 89g and heavier weighted ones will be above 89g.

Beginners may want to start by playing outdoors to get a feel for the game, so a set which comes in two sizes would be a good idea - for adults or for junior players.

Shuttlecocks

Shuttlecocks are generally made from either feathers or synthetic materials. Feather shuttles give a better performance, but are brittle and break easily. Synthetic shuttles were developed for this reason, but they have substantially different playing characteristics. They'll fly slower on initial impact, but slow down less towards the end of their flight. Feather shuttles will come off the strings at a faster speed, but also slow down faster as they drop. The game will seem faster with a feather shuttle, but you'll also have more time to play the shot.

More experienced and skilled players tend to opt for feather shuttles. Use synthetic shuttles indoors for a more durable option, but they're also ideal for outdoor play.

Cricket

Cricket bat sizing can be quite difficult to get right, but it's hugely important to the technical development of the young cricketer because it's easier to learn stroke development with the right size bat.

The best way to work out the right size is by the height of the player. Junior cricket bats are not only smaller, but are also designed for smaller hands and lower strength levels. We offer junior sizes ranging from 3 to 6, with the Harrow bat for those players who have outgrown their size 6 but aren't quite ready for an adult bat.

Height of player Generation
4´6" - 4´9" 3
4´9" - 4´1" 4
4´11" - 5´2" 5
5´2" - 5´6" 6
5´6" - 5´9" Harrow (H)

Bat material

This could be either English willow or Kashmir willow. English willow is considered to be better as the wood is soft and fibrous with a honeycomb cell structure, making it easy to press during the manufacturing stage. This, along with its natural moisture, gives it great ball striking and rebound performance. English willow bats are used by professionals and for test matches, so are more suited to the intermediate to advanced player.

Kashmir willow is a harder wood, making it less responsive so you won't feel the same striking satisfaction that you would from its English counterpart. However, the hardness of this wood also makes it more resilient, and so better for a beginner or for a more casual cricket player.


Protective gear

Cricket requires a few bits of specialist equipment to keep you safe, as you'll know that a hard cricket ball can do a lot of damage.

When batting, you'll need leg pads to protect shins. Make sure that they fit comfortably so you can move quickly to get those single runs in. The horizontal panels on the front of the pad should be at knee height, with the top of the pad covering up the lower thigh. Most pads have three velcro straps to fasten them to your leg, making them easy to adjust. Modern pads are incredibly light - but are still able to provide plenty of protection.

Broken fingers are one of the most common injuries cricketers pick up so protective gloves are important when batting. Another important piece of equipment is an abdo guard.

The England and Wales Cricket Board advises that all players up to the age of 18 should wear a helmet during match play and practice. Even if you're not batting against fast bowlers, a helmet will protect you against an accidental full toss or a top-edged sweep.

Care of your bat

Once you have your new bat you'll need to prepare it for play. All bats need to be knocked in. This will harden the bat's surface, protecting it from cracking and increasing its life. It will also improve the performance of your bat.

First of all, apply 2 coats of linseed oil which should be gently rubbed in with a soft cloth into all areas, except the v-shaped splice section and the areas where stickers have been applied to the bat

After 24 hours apply a second coat of oil in the same way; this ensures that the wood becomes supple so that it dents rather than cracks when you start the knocking-in process

Next, you'll need to obtain a wooden bat mallet. Using this and starting with the blade of the bat, gently tap the centre of the face, gradually increasing the force used. If you start to see dents appearing you should lightly oil the bat again, or strike it with less force.

Repeat this on the edges of the bat until they show a rounded, compact appearance.

This process is tedious and will probably take you at least 4 - 6 hours, but it will be worth it.

Before using the bat in a match, use it against an old, softer cricket ball in the nets and then switch for a new match-standard ball.

When you first use your new bat in a match, you'll need to be careful and check it carefully after the first few strikes for minor damage. Attend to this as it occurs with wood glue or bat repair tape. Some cracking will appear during the life of the bat but this won't adversely affect the performance.

During the life of your bat it should be kept dry and away from direct sources of heat. Once a year rub down your bat with very fine sandpaper and use linseed oil to make sure the willow remains supple. This will extending its life and minimise the possibility of cracks appearing.