Selecting a Shoe for Pickleball

Selecting a Shoe for Pickleball

Court shoes are very,very different from regular shoes or running/walking shoes and
to understand this you need to look at the three main parts of a shoe.
The first thing to understand is that a great court shoe is all about providing stability. This means that when you are running or stepping sideways the shoe completely stabilises your foot and lower leg and does not require you to take an extra step for balance or does not require your lower leg muscles to strongly activate to keep your balance.

The three main parts of a shoe are:
Outsole – this is the part that contacts the ground and has the grip.
The midsole – This is the most important part of a shoe and is the most overlooked!!
It is the foam or rubber that provides you with cushion and absorbs the impact of
every step. It is the part of the shoe that joins the outsole to the Upper.
The Upper - is the top part of the shoe that forms the shape of the shoe and fits
around your toes and heel.

All three of these components are very different on a court shoe that they are on a
running or leisure shoe. They have to be different because we expect very different
performance when we are playing a court sport than we do when we are running or
walking.

THE OUTSOLE
This provides you with your grip. It might sound obvious but the best way to get a lot of grip is to have a lot of contact with the floor so good court shoes are those that give a lot of floor contact in the heel and at the front of the foot. This means that the shoe is often quite flat. A good court shoe should enable your contact with the floor to be the same as if you were standing in bare feet. In addition to this it is very common for good court shoes to have multiple grip patterns in multiple directions. This enables you to have full grip and control whether you are stepping forwards, backwards and of course sidewards (lateral). In Pickleball (particularly doubles) there are an enormous amount of lateral steps along the kitchen line as you reflexively reach for a volley or look for an opening.

THE MIDSOLE
As mentioned this is the most important component of the shoe as this softens the
impact that travels through your ankle, knee, hip and lower back. However it is
very,very important that players do not confuse this and think that they need or will
benefit from a soft (spongey) midsole. As mentioned above there are many movements (particularly lateral) when playing pickleball and this can result in in your variously putting pressure on the front, back and sides of your shoe. This means that the midsole rubber/foam of your shoe MUST HAVE consistent density and performance throughout the entire midsole. When you step sideways it is imperative that your shoe does not collapse on the sides (which a running shoe will do) because then it will be up to the muscles of your lower leg to keep you on balance. If you do this enough times you definitely run the risk of ankle and achilles injuries. It is very easy to test for this in your shoes when you try them on.

THE UPPER
Now this is obviously where all the feel of the shoe comes into play. Clearly you have to make sure that the shoe shape is comfortable around your toes, heel and the top of your foot. This is completely down to the personal feel that you like but there are a couple of factors to consider before we talk about the structure you should have. In general you will need some space infront of your toes in your court shoe. The usual recommendation is ½ to a full thumb width. This allows some room for your foot to move when you put your foot down hard in a forward direction which is typical when you move towards the net. This gives a small amount of room for the toes and stops them hitting the end of the shoe which can result in blisters and lost toe nails, both of which will impact negatively on how you play.

The shoe should also fit firmly (but comfortably) around your ankle. Your foot should
not slip out of the shoe when you step forward.

As previously mentioned lateral stability is critical in a court shoe and the structure of the Upper plays a strong role here also. On a typical running/walking shoe the upper will be mesh and there will be no panels or stabilizing structure on the sides of the shoe, particularly on the “outside” A court shoe will have definite layers that make it very hard to roll your ankle out (or in). This may be due to material that connects the lacing area to the outside of the shoe or it may be due to layers of stiffer material that keep the foot upright no matter what movement is being taken.