Cole Walker might have one of the greatest jobs of anyone that I know. And if you are a soccer player or fan, you'll probably feel similar to how I do about his job.
Cole Walker is a product tester for SOCCER.COM. Which means that he gets to test out the latest and greatest soccer products, he gets to run around and play in all the new boot releases, he gets to talk to brands about where boots and soccer equipment is headed and he gets to create content around his experiences.
I first met Cole a few years ago while on a trip to Portland and I have watched his career evolve and I was very stoked to get a chance to chat with him about his job, what that entails and some of his favorites things about soccer boots.
Here is that conversation:
Can you introduce yourself and give us a little bit of background on where your from, where you played soccer, etc?
My name is Cole Walker. I was born and raised in Missouri, having spent 20 years growing in Kansas City, MO. Now I live in Durham, NC and work for SOCCER.COM.
Where did you play growing up?
Growing up I changed teams quite a bit, always trying to find better coaches and players. I finished my club years playing with a few in Kansas City, MO: KC Legends, KC Blaze and Futura.
Can you give us some background on your soccer career?
My soccer career was pretty standard for the in America. I started playing soccer when I was four years old with some friends on a rec team. When I reached middle school, I joined a competitive team. In high school, my school happened to have a great deal of high quality players so we were always competing for state titles. Between high school and club soccer I was receiving interest from a few colleges but I ended up at Harding University in Searcy, AR. It was an NCAA DII school so the competition was high and the play was good. It also gave me a chance to play alongside my brother the next year when he was recruited there as well.
I played all four years at university and then went to a professional combine after my senior season. I didn't have very high hopes for playing professionally, but I wanted to see how far off I was. I wanted to see if I had sacrificed one more Friday or Saturday if I could have made it. It was a fantastic experience but I didn't end up going anywhere.
Once I graduated from university, I found my job at soccer.com. I've been a boot nerd nearly all my life, always wanting to learn and try new products and this was the perfect fit for me. Now, I'm 26 and have spent a fantastic 22 years playing soccer and wouldn't trade it for the world.
What's the story behind you getting the job at SOCCER.COM?
It was actually some random luck that I got the job there. I was really tired one day in college so I skipped class to go take a nap at my apartment. I was checking Instagram before my napped I saw that SOCCER.COM had posted something about testing products and doing video reviews for them. I was a broadcast journalism major in college so being on camera was second nature for me, plus, I played soccer so it seemed like a perfect fit. I applied and got a response in about two hours. They said that there was a different, more product and footwear specific position that was open that they wanted me for, but I would still do the video and product testing on the side. I took that job after I graduated and moved to North Carolina.
My current role at SOCCER.COM has evolved a bit from when I first started. Basically anything that has to deal with footwear at soccer.com, I handle. I write blog posts for our "SOCCER.COM Guide," I write all the wording for footwear in the SOCCER.COM catalog, and all the product information for the website. The product testing side is basically that. Having a lot of video experience and product knowledge made it easy to talk, recommend and review footwear. I've been a boot nerd for a very long time now, and being able to work with brands and their product is incredible. I love being able to see the innovation and why they create and tweak the way that they do. Being able to test nearly every single boot on the market also means that brands like to get my opinion on their unreleased products as well. For example, I just got back from Nike HQ today, and while I was there I had a chance to see their 2019 products as well as test one of their new boots coming in 2019. Of course, I can't say which one, or what it was even, but it was a very awesome experience that is a major perk of the job.
What are some of your thoughts on the current boots that we see in the market?
I would say that the boots on the market now are a sign of how far technology has come in the world of sport. Knit and lightweight materials are offering soft touches and second skin-like fits, and that's something we should appreciate. We don't have to deal with boots that weigh 10 ounces or more and now, even in pouring rain, they still stay light. Boots today don't require break in time, which is different from what many of us experienced in the past. You can take a pair straight from the box to a game without too many issues.
What are you liking about recent boot releases?
With some recent releases, I'm liking how brands are going back to "basics" if you will. They focus on comfort first and then go after performance aspects to add. Comfort should always be the first thing sought after in a boot, the performance second, and I think a handful of recent releases have done just that.
Is there any aspects of modern boots that you don't like?
On the other side of that, comes what I don't like. Brands that focus too much on what a silo should be and they lose focus on the comfort aspect as they search too much for performance. We have seen this a few times across the board, and it can really hurt performance. Another downside to modern boots is durability. As brands chase that perfect synthetic, it seems that durability isn't always consistent. Growing up, I had one pair of boots that I would train and play in, and they would last me two seasons. Now, you're lucky to get a full season out of a boot for just games. Now, I do realize that a lot of durability aspects come from an uptake in artificial turf use, but to me, brands should adapt and find a way to cope. It would be nice to see a pair of boots last for a long time.
Can you take us through your process when reviewing, wear testing and creating content around boots?
My process is a simple one. Spend as much time in the product as I can before reviewing. Of course that sometimes doesn't happen depending on when the brand sends me the product. I try to send about a month training and playing in the boots before I film a review, that was I can see how the product really performs. Once we start filming, it's really cut and dry. We have a video department that is fantastic and does a great job filming and editing to make me look like I'm actually good at football, and a brand marketer that helps me stay true to the marketing story (also to make sure I don't offend any brands with my opinion haha). It takes a team to get our reviews out, and thankfully they are all quite good.
In recent years we have seen brands release limited edition products and color ways, and even seen brands bring in designers like Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones to work on soccer boots. What do you think this says about the current market and where things are headed?
I think it just goes to show how much of an influence street style and soccer style has on each other. We can see it with the adidas Tango line and Nike's Nike FC apparel, soccer and soccer players have a certain style and it resonates with the current fashion culture. Seeing designers brought in to add their own touch and flair to a boot offers players to rock the same "swagger" on the field as they would on the street. As for the future, honestly, I'm not sure. Personally the designer stuff has gone over decent, but I don't think we'll see a large play for it in the future. Brands are worried enough about moving their own product, not a more expensive designer version of it.
What do you think is the biggest story in the soccer boot market right now?
this is a tough one to answer, because in soccer, especially with brands, there is always a bigger story coming next. At this moment, I would have to say the Nike Phantom Vision is the biggest story because it is the newest boot on the market. The adidas X and Predator are close behind it though.
What is your favorite boot of all time?
Personally, my all time favorite boot is the adidas Predator Mania. I actually had the champagne colorway made into a cake for my wedding. A close second would either be the 2012 adidas leather F50 adiZero or or the adidas Predator adiPower. Nike boots are up there as well, just not in my top three.
When did you fall in love with soccer?
I struggled with enjoying soccer growing up. It wasn't until high school when I really fell in love with it. After that, it was all I could think about.