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“Shoes-ston, we have a problem”

Forgive the Apollo 13 pun in the title but it captures the importance of the topic and my own personal obsession with buying too many sports shoes! Right at the start of all coaching courses and many intro sessions for new players is a safety briefing. Sometimes forgotten but vital is footwear. In most sessions, a large percentage of the footwear worn is unsuitable for the job. In America, a large increase in lower leg injuries was caused by pickleball players wearing incorrect shoes. Bad or wrong types of shoes can cause ankle, knee, hip, back problems, potentially even shoulder and neck issues by having key body parts out of alignment and balance, without even considering the risks of falling, twisting or slipping. 

Running shoes are common in rec play and a big cause of ankle injuries.  Running shoes are designed to absorb impact and return energy in a straight line on a variety of surfaces, over and over.  Pickleball is a game played with a lot of start/stop movements forwards, backwards and especially laterally.  Running shoes aren’t designed with enough mid foot lockdown to keep your foot on the strobel (footbed) when moving sideways so your foot might twist or slip off the sole.  They also lack a hard shank to prevent the shoe twisting under duress and explosive movement.  You wouldn’t use a spanner to hammer a nail in a wall: you might be able to do it for a while but eventually you’re going to hurt yourself! Using running shoes for pickleball is no different but there’s no pickleball specific shoes for sale in the UK. Don’t panic, I’ve got you covered.  

Where do I buy them from? Your mass market “sports fashion” retailers don’t really carry anything particularly suitable if you are going to play pickleball regularly. Their low cost “tennis shoes” don’t have the best levels of support and tend to either breakdown quickly or cause issues with rubbing, blisters or soreness, often due to poor design and materials. On the high street, Decathlon are a “true” sports retailer and can offer good value across their own brand Artengo and Perfly ranges. 

However, I always say that your local racket sport specialist is key on this purchase. They normally have a good range of options across tennis, badminton, squash and padel where you can you try on, with expert advice, as well as being well prepared by this article. Trying on is vital as your feet are both the accelerator and brakes of your game: think of them as the tyres and the brakes of your sporting “car” so they have to be right. It’s the only part of your body in contact with the court, unless something is going horribly wrong with your shot! Your MOT checks your tyre wear, it’s just as important with your shoes.  

However, if there’s not a specialist nearby, the internet can help you as the likes of Nike and Adidas have in home trials for up to 60 days or more. I’ve had to use this service for specific shoes, available only from the brand directly. No matter how I tried to break them in at home, they remained uncomfortable and not suited to my feet. Back you went, Adidas Barricade Stanniversary shoes, no matter how wonderful you looked!

How should they fit? Of vital importance is a glove like fit and plenty of lateral support across the arch and mid foot with no heel slip.  Ankles tend to roll when your foot moves in the shoe rather than landing funny: you need a locked down foot that stays on the foot bed.  If possible, try shoes on later in the day as your feet swell a small amount and you can make sure they fit for an evening PB session. Lacing should be tight but not too tight and when doing the last two rows, flex your foot upwards when tightening and tying. This gives the correct plantar flexion and prevents over tightening.  Bonus tip: that extra hole at the top near the one you normally use? That’s for tying a runners loop. Rather than crossing back over, go through the hole on the same side, then cross over to the opposite side. Put the lace under the loop formed by the two holes. This forms a tighter final cross and knot for enhanced lockdown that prevents heel slippage. 

Your normal playing surface is key: if you are using a wooden floor similar to most school sports halls or leisure centres, you’ll can look at badminton and squash shoes, as they are designed for that surface.  They also often have a “gum” bottom, meaning the classic yellowy brown rubber. Like old school gum glue. Brands like Yonex, Salming, Babolat are safe buys as a rule. 

Decent basketball shoes also work for wooden surfaces and also may feature good support and cushion. No need for high ankle models, as they don’t really offer any more protection for your ankles.  If you want that, you need ankle braces and size up your shoe potentially by half a size. Volleyball and netball are also legitimate options.  

For some rubbery surfaces and any kind of outdoor play, the indoor outsoles can be too sticky for some players or don’t last on concrete hard courts. That’s where tennis shoes come in especially all court versions.  You should be looking for potentially a partial herringbone or wave bone pattern, possibly with a ball of foot pivot point. Definitely avoid clay court tennis shoes with full herringbone as these are the wrong type of traction. 

If in doubt or playing multiple surfaces and you want just one shoe, buy an all court tennis shoe. Oh, and don’t wear them to the court as you’ll pick up dirt and debris in the grooves. Travel to the court in regular shoes and change on court to maximise the performance and life of your shoes.

What kind of shoes are there? Most tennis brands have three or more from these types. Some samples follow 

  • A “match day” shoe (light but less durable, the race car): ASICS Solution Speed, Adidas Ubersonic, Nike Vapor Pro 
  • A “stability” shoe (sturdier, heavier, more cushioned, the tank shoe): ASICS Resolution, Adidas Barricade, Nike Vapor Cage 
  • A “hybrid” shoe (a mix of the first two, like a 4×4): ASICS Court FF, Adidas Sole Match Control
  • A “team” shoe (a cheaper version of the first two, originally for collegiate athletes to wear as a team): ASICS Solution Swift, Adidas Defiant Generation 
  • A “club” shoe for social and sporadic players.  Adidas Game Court, Nike Vapor Lite

All will do the job depending on the circumstance and some of your decision will be based on your play style, volume of play (how often and how long), body type and any previous injuries/issue.  A larger player may want a more stable shoe to support them better for longer, a nimble player will possibly want a lighter match day shoe. Plastic or carbon fibre support in the mid foot (a shank) prevents the shoe from twisting and a really good feature to have in your shoe. You can expect a lightweight shoe to wear down faster as the manufacturers use less rubber and lighter materials so will have lower durability: the lighter you are physically and the less aggressive you move, the longer your shoe will last. However, over time, many midsole foams break down and either go very hard or go to mush. If your feet start to hurt or your midsole cushioning starts to fall apart, it’s time to retire them to gardening and casual duty. 

What should I pay? 

I would recommend a decent investment in shoes as they do more work per game than your paddle! But there is no need to spend a fortune and buying the most expensive shoe that doesn’t work for your feet is not going to improve your play, where a cheaper comfortable well fitted shoe will. 

Based on late 2022 pricing, the upper pricing point is around £170, with many excellent shoes around £100-£140, team shoes maybe £80-110 and club from about £50.  Badminton shoes tend to be a little cheaper than tennis shoes but may lack some support in comparison. Please seriously consider buying shoes from your local racket store as they do such a vital service for all racket sport communities in the UK. 

You can sometimes get a deal by buying last season’s colours. If you aren’t that fussed on looks or colour, you can get a super price for top shoes if you are patient and hunt around. I’ve bought £140 shoes for under £60 by buying this way and getting lucky. However, you may need to stock up before your current shoes fail if you follow this idea. If you need shoes NOW, you need to get to your local racket store.

Any more advice?

There’s an excellent YouTube channel called “Foot Doctor Zach” who reviews almost all the main shoes across racket sports that are available in the US so he’s a good source of advice. You shouldn’t completely follow his pickleball shoe advice, as it’s an outdoor game in the US.  Pickleball in the UK is mainly indoors so shoe choices are different. As a medical professional and ex high level college tennis player, he knows his stuff and uses a strong reviewing methodology so it’s a great place for research and insight. 

The final pieces of the foot equation are quality sports socks with toe, heel padding and correct support, plus maybe a replacement insole. 

For socks, Thorlo socks are the gold standard for rackets players for years: £12-15 a pair but will last years and solve many foot issues. There are a couple of different thicknesses of sock but make sure to get the racket sport models. They even have a pickleball specific sock which is great for summer as has a vented top of the mid foot: it may not work for players that get top of foot pain though where the normal Thorlo tennis sock will be perfect. Avoid running socks as too thin and slippy as a rule. You can also wear two pairs of thin socks as these often prevent blisters or fill a slightly too large shoe: the friction from movement is sock to sock, not sock to shoe which causes the blisters. Also look at Stance performance socks, Nike/Adidas/Under Armour basketball or tennis specific socks, plus the Uniqlo Roger Federer socks as strong alternatives. Decathlon also do a decent racket sock that’s quite thin: it is a good first sock for a double sock set up.

Insoles supplied with tennis shoes are often poor and a £25-30 orthotic can make a huge difference if you remove the stock model. ASICS are the only brand I don’t need to swap out and Under Armour fit decent insoles across running, fitness and basketball shoes. 

Pinnacle power step or Lynco Aetrex orthotics are my go to’s for sports orthotics. You would need to get the right version of an Aetrex for your foot type (a trip to a podiatrist could be a good investment for long term health and guidance) but Pinnacle’s seem to work for almost all feet and players. They are also about £30 a set so great value. Superfeet are also raved about but don’t work for my feet: they seem to have minimal arch support and that’s where orthotics really help many people. If you want custom insoles, my set of Foot Balance Impact are great and worth every penny of the £60, as they are made to measure. There are a lot of podiatrists and chiropodists that can fit these for you: they tend to last longer than your shoes so can be a good investment. 

So there’s a huge amount of stuff to consider when getting shoes for pickleball but getting it right has so many benefits. Better movement, less risk of injury, better grip, less fatigue.

TL;DR: Sorry to say it but your beloved pair of Skechers are not going to be ideal, unless you have Tyson McGuffin’s Viper Courts from the US. If in doubt, buy a modern proper tennis shoe around £100 upwards in price (before any discounts) that fits well and is supportive. Adidas Stan Smiths were once a tennis shoe but aren’t going to cut it now. Your shoes are a vital part of your playing kit: if at all possible, get to a racket store and try on a few pairs. Your feet and your game won’t regret it. 

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