Over the past 40 years the “modern” sports shoe has evolved from the all-purpose sneaker to an abundance of sport-specific shoes. Given we have so much choice – and with encouragement from big brands and keen shop assistants – it seems logical to select footwear designed specifically for each activity. But what does the evidence say? Do we really need to wear a unique shoe for each activity we participate in?
The answer is a little less clear than you might imagine.
What you want in a shoe
Before we look at the evidence, let’s think about what we want from our sports shoes.
For me, there are three key considerations that can help guide the shoe selection process:
the selected shoe should minimise the risk of injury in light of the sports it will be used for, and with respect to the uniqueness of the person wearing it
our sports shoe should allow us to maximise our athletic performance, but not at the expense of increasing injury risk (let’s face it, if you get injured then your athletic performance is likely to decrease anyway!)
With this in mind, we need to consider the unique physical demands of each sport and what shoe features are required to help prevent injury and maximise performance.
For some sports, the benefits of using a specific shoe are quite obvious. Most would agree that football boots with built-in spriggs will help maintain traction while avoiding a tackle, while a stiff-soled cycling shoe will help power production through bike pedals during a hill climb.
However, the benefits of using a sport-specific shoe during other activities may not be as apparent. For example, is there really that much difference between netball, basketball and tennis shoes?
Court shoes versus running shoes
With the exception of basketball shoes typically having a “high-top” upper, all other features of court shoes can be quite similar – they all aim to provide support, cushioning and traction during multi-directional movements.