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When it comes to sports, shoe quality matters

Running and Fitness
Saturday, February 23, 2019

It seems that the last two weeks it has been “shoes are in the news.” Looking back on my experiences with athletic shoes over the years it all started with the black, high-top, Converse, Chuck Taylor tennis shoe. That was the shoe that everyone used for tennis, basketball, running, volleyball and almost any sport a kid played. Then came the introduction of the shoe in white. Shortly after that the shoe also came as a low-cut. Now kids had to choose between a black high top, a white high top, a black low cut, or a white low cut. Decisions now had to be made as to what was the “in” shoe in your neighborhood. I remember back from the late 1940s and early 1950s for the Converse shoes and yet they are still one of the “in” shoes today. The only difference is that the cost for the shoe today is much, much, more expensive.

Today it seems that each sport has its own shoe.  And some sports have a shoe for a specific position that you play in that sport. Can you wear a basketball shoe to play volleyball? Both sports are played on the same type of court. But the sports have different demands on foot movement and the shape of the soles and top are very different. Wrestling has a special shoe for its athletes. Since the sport is on a cushioned mat that absorbs shock the shoe does not have to worry about landing on a hard surface. The soles are very thin, have no edge on it (basketball shoes will tear up a wrestling mat in no time), and is very light weight.  In wrestling much of the foot movement is almost like a shuffle with the foot sliding on the mat rather than stepping. Wrestlers learn very quickly that when an opponent lifts up a foot, he, or she, can’t really move until the foot comes back to the mat – and that is when you shoot for a takedown.  

Tennis shoes are designed so that each court surface has a different sole.  Is the game on concrete, clay, grass, or asphalt?  Each requires a different sole pattern.

In early models of football shoes you had a choice of cleats, or mud cleats, to attach to the bottom of the shoe.  Mud cleats were about an inch or more in length so the athlete could get traction on a muddy field. As a kid growing up with limited funds you bought mud cleats for every game as they would last longer and you could probably make it through the entire season with one pair of cleats. Mine had an aluminum tip on the bottom so they lasted almost two seasons of playing.  And even though they are played on grass fields, soccer cleats and football cleats are a little different.  If the field is artificial turf, the cleats are again different. 

Baseball pitchers have an extra piece of leather on the toe of the dragging foot to keep it from wearing out the top part of the shoe.  Running shoes started out with Nike and a wide sole to cushion the foot strike.  Now you have to know if you are a heel striker, a toe striker, a pronator, a supinator, a training shoe, or a racing flat when you want a pair of running shoes.  A running shoe is designed for a forward motion. It is not designed for lateral movement. Some years ago an athletic shoe store in San Marcos almost went out of business when college students would buy a nice running shoe only to come back the next week with the top ripped off the sole. They played racquetball in the shoes and the lateral movement, and sudden stops, tore the top from the bottom. The shoes were not made for playing another sport other than running.

The reason this topic came up is that a friend of mine bought a pair of running shoes at an area low cost shoe store.  After three days the top portion of the shoe ripped off the sole of the shoe. He went to get it exchanged for a new pair.  He came back with a different shoe and within another few days the rubber part of the sole of the shoe split.  It looked like someone had taken a knife to the sole of the shoe and cut it almost to the middle of the shoe.  This past week a basketball player from Duke came down with a knee injury when during a game, the top of his shoe ripped off the bottom of the shoe and caused him to fall.

It seems that production quality of shoes is being forsaken for getting more quantity at a lower cost in the manufacturing process.  I bought a pair of hiking shoes one year. The rubber portion of the shoe was about 1/8 of an inch thick covering a thick soft rubber sole.  Once that thin piece of rubber wore through the hole in the thick soft rubber was exposed.  I took it in to get it repaired at a local shoe repair shop.  I found out that it is basically non repairable.  The cost to repair is almost more than the cost of a new shoe. The leather upper portion was still in prime condition, but because of the worn out sole the shoe was unwearable.  

I wear cowboy boots quite a bit and found out that there is a difference between a “factory made” boot and a “hand stitched, or hand-made, boot”.  Talking to a boot maker and the boot repair person, I found out that if the boot is factory made it is also non repairable when it comes to replacing the sole of the boot.  Hand stitched boots can replace the sole when it wears out.  Factory made boots you might as well throw away when the front sole of the boot has a hole in it. Look for the wooden lemon pegs, or nails, just in front of the heel to see if it is factory made (no pegs) or hand-made (pegs visible).

If you are playing sports, or just being physically active, it seems that in the long run you are better off paying a little more for quality, and specificity, when you buy your next pair of shoes – or boots.

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666