The signs of fall are all around us! A few early changing leaves, a noticeable nip in the morning air, and parents asking what kind of shoes to buy their young cross country runners!
There are different theories on running shoes, so do your own research and follow any recommendations from a doctor or trained physical therapist, but I lean toward minimalism, especially regarding children. Kids have an amazing ability to adapt to the various stresses they put on their bodies, and one of the benefits of participating in sports at an early age is that it helps develop a strong foundation that supports lifelong health. Running, especially on varied terrain in cross country, can help kids develop strong and flexible feet.
So this leads right into my first rule for buying my own kids’ running shoes; don’t get in the way. A mentor of mine with a lifetime of experience practicing the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi once told me that Chinese people think that westerners wear shoes that make our feet stupid. When we wear thick-soled shoes with lots of cushion and/or motion control, we deprive our feet of proprioception, which is a fancy word for our feet being smart. We have sensors all through our bodies that constantly send information to our brain, and as we run, our feet develop a strong sense of balance, stability, and flexibility based on the activity and the terrain. So, unless you or your child is dealing with a known physical issue that requires a special shoe, less is more.
Coach Craig’s Shoe-Buying Guide:
- Look for lightweight, flexible shoes. Hold the shoe with both hands and try twisting, like you’re wringing out a towel. If you cannot twist then it means the shoes has a reinforced arch to minimize motion, which is not good, unless there is an underlying issue as mentioned above.
- Next, place the shoe on a flat surface and check the heel-to-toe drop. Place an index finger where the heel sits, and the other index finger where the ball of the foot sits. This will give you a basic idea of how high the heel is to the forefoot. A shoe with a high heel will force the athlete to adjust their entire posture. A neutral heel will allow for more natural posture. (It is worth noting that the only reason overly cushioned heels became popular in running shoes is because a lot of people thought that a heel-to-toe roll was the proper way to run. Today we know that a mid-foot strike is ideal, so there is no need for extra heel cushioning, as long as you run with good technique, something you know we teach all of the kids in SJTFC!)
- With the laces untied and the shoe nice and loose, try slipping the shoes on. They should feel very comfortable, almost like cozy bedroom slippers. Lace them up loosely at first and walk a bit. If they are not super comfortable, check the fit, or just try a larger size. In my experience, most people wear shoes that are too small. The best way to fit running shoes is to feel if the arch of the shoes lines up with the arch of the foot. If the two arches are lined up, there will be a little extra room in the toe box, and it might seem like a lot of extra room, but this might be perfect. When I used to buy shoes the wrong way back in college I wore a size 9 1/2. Today, I wear a size 11!
- When it seems like you have the right shoe and size, have your child run around the store a bit. If the shoes are too big they will have a hard time not tripping over them. Also check for too much space between the heel and the back of the shoe. You should be able to squeeze a finger back there, and also feel some space in front of the big toe. If your kid is smiling, chances are they are good to go.
The younger a kid is, the less you need to worry about the shoes they are running in, as long as they are neutral and flexible. Around the start of middle school I believe it’s a good idea to begin looking at name brand shoes that are designed specifically for running. My favorite brand is New Balance, but I have also liked running in some Nike, Brooks and Saucony shoes.
And now would be a good to time to share that our good friends at the Haddonfield Running Company will also be able to give you great advice and make sure you have a perfect fit. Mention that you are part of South Jersey Track & Field Club and they will give you 20% off shoes! I was just told by Running Co owner, Dave Welsh, that they do not have many youth sizes in stock at the moment, but will after September 15. It might be a good idea to call ahead.