On the Road
When it comes to shoe outsole design, here’s what your customers need to know.
Chances are that most of your customers, when they’re looking to buy new tennis shoes, shop for price first. Then, they’ll think about the style of the shoe itself. And last, they may consider the function of the shoe in terms of their style of play and the types of courts they play on most often.
But, to really help your players get the most out of their footwear, you need to convince them that function should be the prime concern when looking to buy new tennis shoes. Tennis players need to consider their shoes to be pieces of equipment, as much as their racquet is a piece of equipment.
If you can help your customers consider their shoes to be equipment, the bottom line for them will be purchasing footwear that will offer better comfort, stability, and performance. And the bottom line for you is that you not only make a sale, but you also gain your customer’s confidence, and his or her repeat business.
In this article, we’ll examine aspects of tennis shoe outsoles that you should point out to your customers to help them find the best piece of equipment that fits their feet and improves their performance.
When a player’s foot meets the ground, it’s the shoe’s outsole that makes the first contact. The outsole is constantly in touch with the court surface. It is the foundation upon which the shoe is built.
The three most common materials for outsoles are synthetic rubber (also known as DRC), ethyl-vinyl acetate (EVA), and polyurethane (PU). Each of these three has important differences that you should be able to describe to your customers.
DRC is the most commonly used outsole material. It provides a good balance between a slightly tacky and smooth composition, and it works well on all surfaces.
EVA, commonly used in the midsole of a shoe because it generates a lot of comfort, doesn’t wear particularly well as an outsole material. EVA does have a tacky feel to it, so if your customer typically plays on a more slick surface, it could prove to be a perfect match.
PU is a heavier and stiffer material that provides more stability. It also is commonly used in midsoles, but when used for the outsole, it is somewhat slick, so it would work well in combination with a tacky court surface.
The design of the outsole will determine the type of traction a player will have on various court surfaces. The two commonly used outsole designs are an all-herringbone pattern or a combination herringbone/pillar pattern.
All-herringbone tread looks like a zig-zag pattern and is preferred for clay and Har-Tru courts for traction. The idea behind the herringbone is that clay will release from the grooves when the shoe is flexed — a kind of “self-cleaning” effect. However, grooves that are too tight or too close to each other may not release clay as effectively as looser spaced grooves.
The herringbone/pillar combination is most common, because it can be used effectively on hard courts as well as on clay. The “pillar” part of the design can take many forms, including circles, stars, and anything non-herringbone. If your customer plays most often on clay, however, make sure that the front of the outsole is all herringbone.
There is a third design that is comprised of “nubs” on the outsole of the shoe. This is really for grass-court play, although it will also work on hard courts. But many manufacturers find there is little call for a shoe with this type of outsole, so they are generally harder to find.
The third area concerning outsoles involves specialty features that are intended to enhance performance. For instance, an anti-roll and/or guidance system will work with specific foot types to help stabilize a player’s gait.
Flex grooves on the perimeter of the outsole, if properly placed, will enhance the flex point of the shoe. Flex grooves can also be on the bottom of the outsole, but generally they are along the sides, with special emphasis on the forefoot or front of the outsole.
Another outsole feature to point out, especially for your serve-and-volley players, is a toe-drag guard or toe bumper guard. These features will help prolong the durability of the outsole and protect against “turf toe,” a painful condition that can be caused by vigorous upward bending of the big toe, causing damage to the ligaments, which can become stretched.
Features hidden in the outsole are anti-shock systems found in the heel and forefoot. These are designed for greater comfort during match play, reducing the shock as the foot impacts the court surface.
Finally, you should make your customer aware of the shank of the shoe, which is the bridge between the forefoot and the heel. Shoes should not flex in the shank area (they should flex in the forefoot area), so the deep cut-outs often found here need to be reinforced. One material that reduces overall shoe weight while providing rigidity in the shank is Thermal Plastic Urethane (TPU).
Remember, when it comes to tennis shoes that will help your customers play better and safer, function should trump style. If you take the time to learn the technology and features that will help your individual customers, the end result will be happier feet, and happier players.
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.