Choosing the best shoes for your young athlete
By Dr. Robert 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; there are lots of choices.
So let’s talk about what’s important:
- 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 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.
- Stick with “name brands” with good quality. You don’t need the highest price shoe. But stay away from bargain 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 your older brother’s or sister’s shoes) is never a good idea. This can cause problems, especially with running and jumping sports.
- If your young athlete has foot, ankle, lower extremity injury history, or fitting problems, get a podiatrist’s opinion. Some good questions to ask are: What is the best shoe for my son or daughter’s foot type or mechanics? Might orthotics be beneficial?
- In general, do not use running shoes for other sports. Running shoes are designed for straight ahead movement – not side to side field or court sports. You can use “cross trainers” for any of these multi-directional sports with few exceptions. They have good stability and motion control.
- Cleats are traditionally used by soccer, baseball, softball and football players, even at very young ages. The problem is that there are large growth centers in the heel susceptible to stress from running and jumping that can be aggravated by the cleats. Most heel pain in pre-teens is related to this. Get your youngsters into a multiple nub shoe that spread the pressure more evenly. These heel conditions called Sever’s or apophysitis are quite common in soccer where heel cleats sit right under the growth center. The balls of the feet in growing children also have these growth centers, and again cleats can cause problems. I would like to see no cleats before adolescence, but it’s a tough sell. If heel problems persist, get podiatry or medical evaluation. I’ve had great success with orthotics for these kids with chronic heel problems.
- Proper fit is important! Would it surprise you to know that over 50 percent of all of us are not wearing the right size? That of course includes our young athletes, whose feet are still growing. Make sure that you go to reputable sports shoe stores with trained “shoe fitters.” Make sure both feet are measured for both length and width. Make sure shoes are comfortable. Sounds simple but if they don’t feel great, don’t buy them. A good idea is for the kids to wear shoes around the house for a 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 find out after wearing shoes for a practice or game that they’re not comfortable.
- Replacement of shoes is also important. Even if your child has not outgrown them, it is wise to replace sports or athletic shoes each season or at least twice a year due to wear and tear. Pay attention to the shoes breaking down. Look at the back of the shoes and check for heels rolling inward or outward. If cleats are used, check their wear pattern. If they are uneven, replace them.
- Skates in both figure skating and hockey need special consideration. Proper fitting of boots in figure skating and hockey is crucial. I recommend only experienced boot fitters for both sports. Again, if foot problems develop, persist or recur, get a podiatrist’s opinion because orthotics will probably be needed to alleviate the problem.
This excerpt was reprinted with permission from #HeySportsParents!, a book co-authored by Dr. Robert Weil and Sharkie Zartman. Weil is a sports podiatrist who has treated many of the world’s premier athletes in a wide variety of sports. He is the host of The Sports Doctor Radio Show and has written many articles for newspapers and magazines on sports parenting.
Dr. Robert Weil
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