By Dr. Bob Weil
Paying attention to the choice of shoes and proper fit for young athletes is extremely important. There is no BEST shoe. Numerous brands and styles are available from which to choose. That’s the point – lots of choices!
So let’s talk about what’s important.
1. Make sure you’re choosing shoes that are designed for the sport. For the most part, it’s smart to stick with what is designed with the particular sport’s demands in mind. Good sturdy heel counters are important as well as the ball of foot flexibility, regardless of the sport. Only running shoes have different foot type criteria, such as motion control and neutral or stability designs. Other sports might be catching up to this, but not yet.
2. Stick with “name brands” that guarantee good quality. You don’t need the highest priced shoe with a prominent athlete’s endorsement but stay away from bargain basement brands. If your young athlete has had good success with a particular brand or style, stick with it. This is easier said than done because the brands are always changing. Hand-me downs (wearing older siblings’ shoes) is never a good idea! This can cause problems especially with running, jumping and multi-directional sports.
Shoe replacement in timely manner is important. If cleats are used, check their wear pattern – if uneven, replace them.
3. If your young athlete has a history of foot, ankle, lower extremity injuries or problems, or fitting concerns, get a podiatrist’s opinion. Some good questions to ask and consider are: What are the best shoes for my athlete’s foot type or mechanics? Would they benefit from orthotics or from physical therapy and strengthening?
4. Do not use running shoes for other, especially multi-directional, sports. Running shoes are designed for straight ahead movement, not side-to-side field or court sports. You can use “cross trainers” for many of these, but truthfully, shoes designed for a particular sport are best.
5. Cleats are traditionally used by soccer, baseball, softball, and football players at young ages. But cleats can create problems with growth: There is a large growth center at the back and bottom of the heel which is susceptible to stress from running and jumping; this spot can be aggravated by cleats. Most heel pain in pre-teens and adolescents is related to this. Get your youngsters into a multiple nub shoe that spreads the pressure more evenly. These heel conditions, often called Severs or apophysitis are quite common in cleats that are positioned right under this area. Other growth centers under the balls of the feet and specifically the big toe also can be aggravated with cleats. I would like to see routinely no cleats before adolescence, but “tradition” makes this a tough sell. If heel problems persist or recur, get podiatrist or medical evaluation as often foot type (for example, high arches or excessively pronated feet) compound the problem. I’ve had great success with orthotics for these kids!
6. Proper fit is always important! Would it surprise you to know that over 50% of us all – including athletes! – are wearing the wrong size length or width shoe? This includes the youngsters, whose feet are still growing.
- Make sure to go to reputable sports shoe stores with properly trained “shoe fitters.”
- Have your athlete’s normal proper game-time socks with you.
- Make sure both feet are measured for both length and width.
- Make sure shoes are comfortable – sounds simple but if they don’t feel good, don’t buy them. Good idea, not only for the kids, is to wear shoes around the house for day or two to make sure they are really comfortable. If so, then play in them – if not replace or exchange them. You don’t want your young athlete to discover after practice or playing in
them that they’re not comfortable and not exchangeable.
7. Shoe replacement in timely manner is important. Foot growth generally ends in girls 13-14 and boys 15-16. Even if your child has not outgrown them, it is wise to replace sport shoes each season or at least twice a year due to wear and tear.
- Pay attention to shoe break down: Put the shoes on the table and look at the back of each shoe to see if the heel is rolling inward or outward – if so, they need to be replaced.
- If cleats are used, check their wear pattern – if uneven, replace them.
8. Skate boots in both figure skating and ice hockey need special consideration. Proper fitting of boots is crucial and I recommend only experienced boot-fitters. Custom boots might be indicated. Again, if foot problems have been or are present or recur, get a podiatrist’s opinion. We’ve seen great success with proper orthotics in skate boots as well.
Dr. Bob Weil is a sports podiatrist in private practice in Aurora, Illinois. He hosts “The Sports Doctor,” a live weekly radio show on bbsradio.com. For more information, go to sportsdoctorradio.com.