Fit Your Players to the Right Shoes
Tennis shoes are just as much a part of a player’s “equipment” as is his or her tennis racquet. If a player’s shoes don’t fit properly, it doesn’t matter how wonderful his racquet is or how clean his strokes are, he’ll have trouble getting to the ball and staying balanced while he hits. Worse yet, if he doesn’t have the right shoes, he could actually be hurting his body and limiting the enjoyment he’ll be able to get out of tennis. And that could limit how much tennis he plays, which will directly affect your bottom line.
So knowing how to fit your customers to the right pair of tennis shoes should be an important part of your business. If you take the time to put your customers into the right shoes, they’ll keep coming back to you. And they’ll keep playing tennis.
Educating your customers as to how to get the proper fit is important. You need to teach them what to look for in a tennis shoe, and emphasize that they should avoid the temptation to buy simply on style or price.
Determine Foot Type
Shoe selection should be based on foot type. The three basic foot types are:
- Supinated feet have a high arch. Players with this type of foot will notice wear on the shoes’ soles on the outside of the heel and forefoot. Players with supinated feet also tend to have a wider forefoot and generally need a shoe with extra room in the toe box. Extra cushioning also is important because of the high arch.
- Pronated feet generally are flat. The wear on the soles is on the inside of the forefoot area. Players who pronate need a shoe with extra support on their big-toe side to help prevent inward roll.
- Neutral feet are the ideal type and have an even wear pattern on the soles. Players with this foot type can wear any shoe that feels comfortable.
Talk to Your Customer
Old shoes tell a story. Look at the tennis shoes your customer is currently using and observe the wear patterns. That can help determine what type of foot he has, and whether he does things like drag his toe on the serve, which means you should suggest a shoe with extra protection around the toe cap.
Also, ask your customer what he likes or dislikes about his current pair of shoes. This can give you an idea of what direction to go with a new pair. And ask your customer if he has any history of foot or lower extremity injuries. This can play an important part in selecting the right shoe.
For instance, if the customer has a history of chronic ankle pain, he should be looking for a mid-cut shoe or one that has low-to-the-ground technology. Or if he or she has very wide feet, suggest a shoe that comes in different widths. Squeezing wide feet into narrow shoes will result in blisters, irritation of different bony spots on the foot, or the formation of bunions and hammertoes.
Check to see if your customer wears custom or over-the-counter orthotics, or if he uses cushions or foot beds inside the shoe. Does he wear ankle braces? If so, why? You may need to suggest a shoe that will allow room for these devices.
Ask your customer about his usual playing environment. Indoors or outdoors? Hard courts or clay? It can determine whether to suggest a nub or herringbone tread design. A nub tread design tends to work better on hard courts, a herringbone tends to work better on clay, and a combination of nub and herringbone will generally work for players how play on both types of surfaces.
How slick are the courts the player generally plays on? Some outsoles have a slicker feel; others have a more tacky feel. If the player often plays on a tacky surface, he shouldn’t be wearing a shoe with a more tacky outsole.
Also remember that feet are not status quo. They actually do change. You should suggest to your customers that at least once a year, they measure their feet for size and width using the Brannock device, which is the typical foot-measuring device found in most shoe stores. And feet also change every day; they swell as the day goes on. So if a customer tries on a pair in the morning, before exercising, that same shoe might feel tight later in the afternoon.
When a customer comes in to try on shoes, he should be wearing the socks that he intends to use with the tennis shoe. Stress the importance of wearing sport-specific socks, which have moisture-management and moisture-wicking abilities, anti-microbial benefits, and anatomic padding. And tennis socks can be a nice extra sale for your shop (see page 14).
One extremely important area to consider when fitting customers with tennis shoes is the flex point. If a shoe flexes right in the middle, underneath the arch, look for a different pair. A shoe should bend where your toes bend.
As you and your customer narrow down the choices, point out the features of specific shoes, such as its support and comfort benefits. Also look at the durability of the shoe; a 6- or 12-month outsole guarantee means the manufacturer will stand behind the shoe. Point out other features of the shoe, such as low-to-the-ground technology, or motion control features, or the outsole design.
When customers come to you looking for the right tennis shoe, treat it seriously. Properly fitted shoes can enhance performance. Improperly fitted shoes can cost the sport a tennis player — and can cost you a customer down the road.
Tips For The Right Fit
- Customers should try on shoes at the end of the day. Throughout the day, and after exercise, feet will swell by about 5 percent.
- When shopping for shoes, make sure your customers wear the sport socks that they’ll wear during play.
- As they try on shoes, have your customers mimic the movements inherent in tennis.
- Always check for proper flex point. If a shoe does not bend where your toes bend, look elsewhere.
- Match your customer’s foot shape to the shape of the shoe outsole.
See all articles by David Sharnoff
About the Author
David Sharnoff is a podiatrist in Shelton, Conn.. He is a longtime advisor to the WTA Tour and a member of Tennis magazine's Technical Advisory Panel. Dr. Sharnoff also is a longtime contributor to professional journals in the field of podiatric medicine.