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How to Buy Tennis Shoes
The first time I ever attended a cardio tennis clinic, I wore my favorite athletic shoes. My Nike Free running shoes were light grey with a pink swoosh and were the most comfortable shoes I'd ever worn. Nike Free shoes are designed to give runners a barefoot-like ride. The flexible soles move with the foot and they fit like a glove. Knowing all this, you can imagine my shock when the tennis pro stopped in the middle of the clinic to address my footwear. Running shoes, you see, are not appropriate footwear for tennis. He was very concerned that I was going to sprain an ankle and urged me to wear some sort of court shoe the next time I attend a clinic.
What to look for in a tennis shoe
Movement is an important part of the game of tennis. Players move side to side, forward, and backward. Ideally, you have time to get your feet into a neutral position or split step before having to commit to a direction. Often, however, players are forced to scramble and change directions quickly. Because tennis involves so much footwork, it's important to wear a shoe that provides stability. Running shoes are designed for forward motion. They are light and flexible and intended to move with the feet. Tennis shoes are designed for speed, support and durability.
- Look for a tennis shoe that offers additional cushioning and support in the ankle area. Extreme directional changes put you at risk for rolling an ankle. A soft, flexible shoe feels great but won't support your foot for side to side movement.
- Turn the shoe over and inspect the sole. A shoe designed for tennis will have something called a shank. A shank is just bit of plastic under the mid foot or arch of the shoe and is there to provide support and to prevent the shoe from twisting. If the shoe doesn't twist, then neither does your ankle and that is definitely a good thing.
- Another feature to look for on the sole of a tennis shoe is the groove pattern. Many running shoes will have an open waffle pattern on the sole for improved flexibility and a smooth stride. The treads on a tennis shoe, however, will be in a zig-zag pattern. This allows grip, flexibility and has the added benefit of releasing material, like clay, from it's grooves when flexed. Varying thickness and patterns on the forefoot, ball-of-foot, and heel provide needed durability and grip.
- The rubber sole of a tennis shoe should wrap up and around the the outside to cover some of the lower portion of the upper shoe. You should see this mostly on the inside part of the shoe, the toe and the heel. This provides support and durability. When changing direction, players generally push off with their outside foot, putting a lot of pressure on the inner foot. If your shoe does not have that additional piece of rubber there, you will end up with holes. A lot of players drag their toe when serving so having the rubber toe guard also prevents wear and tear on the shoe.
- Consider the special needs of your feet when looking for a tennis shoe. If your feet are narrow, don't settle for a wide shoe. If they are wide, don't squeeze them into a narrow shoe. My feet are a little strange. My heels are very narrow but my forefoot is a lot wider. I bought a pair of great looking tennis shoes that were too narrow for my forefoot and ended up with a Morton's Neuroma. Because my feet are very flexible, wearing the wrong shoes allowed them to flex and cause a nerve between my toes to become aggravated and swollen. After a series of painful alcohol shots between my toes, I learned my lesson. Always wear shoes that fit your feel well.
Where to buy tennis shoes
It can be tricky to find a place that sells shoes specifically designed for tennis. The word "tennis shoes" has come to mean athletic shoes to many people. (It's kind of like how people use the word Kleenex to indicate any facial tissue.) Often, when you approach an athletic footwear store and ask for tennis shoes, the sales representative will direct you to running shoes or, worse, skater-type shoes. To buy a good pair of tennis shoes, I suggest finding a store dedicated to court sports or visiting a pro shop in a tennis club. Once you know what kind of shoes you like, there are a multitude of places to shop online. I suggest the following places to buy shoes for tennis:
- Your local tennis pro shop.
- A specialty tennis store. These stores are usually locally owned so you have the added benefit of supporting a local merchant.
- Most shoe manufacturers have websites that allow you to order from them directly.
- Occasionally, you may get lucky and find tennis shoes at discount stores like Ross Dress for Less or TJ Maxx.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $120 for a decent pair of tennis shoes. If you find a pair in your size at a discount store, however, you will pay significantly less. Knowing what to look for when buying shoes for tennis makes it a lot easier when shopping and will enable you to look at alternative sources. Just keep in mind that, while it's okay to buy tennis shoes that are attractive, most importantly they should provide stability, durability and comfort.