If you’re considering joining a pickleball team, you might be wondering what equipment you’ll need to excel in the paddle sport, which is a mix between regular tennis and table tennis with a few elements of the racquet sport badminton.
Although pickleball is a relatively new sport, which came on the scene in 1965 right outside of Seattle, it has grown in popularity, especially in recent years. In fact, it’s now considered to be one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S., boasting more than 8 million players across the nation.
It’s easy to see why pickleball has become so popular—it can be played by people of all ages and abilities. There also are no boundaries as to where the game can be played (both indoors and outdoors) and the format lends itself to quick rallies and counter attacking, explains Reda Elmardi, CSCS, a personal trainer and founder of ActivBuilt.com.
Understanding the Demands of Pickleball
Similar to tennis or table tennis, pickleball involves dynamic and unique fast-paced movements, including quick lateral strides, pivoting, and even sudden changes in direction. Like tennis, you have to move forward, backward, and side to side across the court; and you pivot to take many shots, explains Cary Raffle, MS, certified personal trainer and certified orthopedic exercise specialist based in New York City.
“With pickleball, not only do you need to quickly change direction in pursuit of the ball while maintaining balance and footing, but your feet, body, and shoes have to work and move together to make all of these movements, to be able to control your shots, produce power when you swing, and reduce the risk of injury,” says Raffle.
Even though pickleball is most often played at the recreational level, it still requires the right gear, starting with a suitable pair of shoes.
When it comes to picking the right athletic footwear for your pickleball game, there are a few things to consider. One consideration, according to Elmardi, depends on where you will be playing the sport—whether it’s flat ground or a harder surface—as each type of play will require different shoes.
For flat-ground play, he recommends opting for sneakers or tennis shoes, as these provide supportive cushioning and shock absorption during gameplay. For harder surfaces like concrete or hardwood courts, he suggests going with specialized shoes like those designed specifically for pickleball.
Benefits of Pickleball-Specific Shoes
If you are new to pickleball, you may be wondering if purchasing specially-designed shoes is worth it. Here’s a look at some of the key benefits of investing in pickleball shoes.
Optimal Traction and Court Grip
As mentioned, traction is incredibly important when it comes to playing pickleball. This traction can help players execute quick movements, maintain stability, and prevent slips and falls. This is why pickleball-specific shoes can really come in handy.
When looking for the right pickleball shoes for you, be sure to shop for traction-specific materials like rubber, nylon, and leather. According to Elmardi, you’re most likely to find pickleball shoes made from rubber, because it’s cheaper and commonly used in other outdoor sport-specific shoes like soccer and baseball cleats.
“Nylon is a more expensive option but offers better traction than rubber and is often used in high-tech sneakers because it provides great shock absorption and long-term durability,” he says. “Leather is the most expensive option but offers the best grip of all the materials and is also becoming more popular in sneakers because of its natural look and feel.”
Lateral Stability and Support
When you’re moving from side to side in a lateral fashion, as you do during a game of pickleball, your opponent will most likely follow suit and this, Elmardi explains, often requires players to be on top of their balance and ensure that they’re steady when making shots. Pickleball shoes are designed to aid in this stability and thus can help reduce injuries such as sprains.
Cushioning and Impact Absorption
Pickleball shoes are designed similarly to those made for running. They often have cushioned comfort, with a midsole that offers shock absorption and reduces the impact felt in the joints, including knees, lower back, and, of course, the feet. You can often find pickleball shoes that utilize one of several sports technologies such as gel inserts or responsive foam, which can help cushion and reduce the impact on the joints. This cushioning is not only important during the sport itself, but also months or even years down the line, as it minimizes the risk of overuse injuries.
“When the body is cushioned, it can maintain more balance, preventing muscular fatigue and joint pain as adequate cushioning can help reduce overall stress on the body and allow a person to work harder for longer periods of time without experiencing any pain,” says Elmardi. “In addition to these long-term benefits, cushioning also helps promote positive movement habits, which in turn results in a stronger, more flexible body.”
Proper Fit and Considerations
As with the purchase of any shoes, you want to make sure that any pickleball shoes you invest in fit well and provide adequate support. To do this, you may want to take measurements of your feet using a ruler or measuring tape. Jot down these digits so you have them handy while you’re shopping.
Elmardi suggests purchasing pickleball shoes that fit snugly and don’t allow your feet to move around much while you’re walking around or playing. He also recommends paying close attention to arch support. “If your foot has high arches, look for shoes with adjustable straps or more supportive materials built into the sole of the shoe.”
Lastly, if it’s possible, try your pickleball shoes on the surface on which you’ll be playing so you can get a good feel for how they’ll fit during the game. This might require you to step outside so you can walk on grass or find an area with a hardwood floor if you know you’ll be playing on a hardwood court.
While you can certainly play the game of pickleball with most shoes designed for sports, such as running shoes or cross-fit shoes, there are many reasons why you would want to invest in a pair designed specifically for pickleball, such as improved traction, enhanced stability, added cushioning and increased impact absorption. All in all, investing in high-quality pickleball shoes is a worthwhile investment that can contribute to their long-term enjoyment and success in the sport.
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