In previous articles, I have discussed how equipment such as our racquet, string and string tension can affect our performance and I have talked about the important safety issues related to playing on a properly groomed or squeegeed court. It is also important that we have the proper shoes and clothing when playing tennis or pickleball.
So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up: Proper court shoes. Tennis shoes are specifically designed for movement in the sport of tennis. In tennis, there is a lot of lateral movement, along with forward motion.
Running and walking shoes are designed for one directional movement, which is forwards. These type of shoes are designed and cushioned for our feet to be moving one in front of the other, and have very flat wide soles with an edge on the outside sole.
Tennis shoes, while also being properly cushioned, are specifically designed to be firmer in lateral support. The outside edges of the soles are also designed for extra support on lateral movement. The soles are designed for the grip required to quicklychange direction.
Tennis shoes are also specifically designed for either a hard court or a clay court. While the overall concept of design is the same, shoes that are meant for hard courts have more durable rubber soles, because the hard surface wears out the sole.
However, because clay courts are a softer surface, durability is not as much of an issue. Shoes designed for clay court play have a rubber compound, which is usually softer and a bit lighter in weight. The tread design on a clay court shoe will also vary from that of a hard court shoe. A hard court shoe tread is designed for quick starts and stops, while clay court shoes have more of a herringbone tread design which provide proper grip when sliding. (See Photos 1 & 2.)
Whether playing on hard courts or clay courts, most recreational club level players don’t necessarily wear out the outsole of their shoes. However, they do wear out the insoles of their shoes. While it is obvious to tell and see when the outsoles of our shoes are worn, there arereally no outstanding obvious signs of when our insoles are worn.
Tennis shoes tend to stretch out over a period of time and as this occurs the support and stability that the shoes are supposed to be providing degrades. Along with this, wearing worn out shoes quite simply hurt your feet! I recommend finding a shoe that you like and purchasing two pairs. Rotate use of the two pairs of shoes. If you play two to three times a week, I suggest buying new shoes every six months.
Let’s move up from the feet to proper clothing. I encourage and insist that all of my junior players who are competing on school teams or playing tournaments and challenge matches, wear proper tennis shorts or a tennis skirt. Tennis shorts have pockets, and until we are good enough to be able to have ball boys on the court with us, we need a place to keep extra balls handy when we are serving. Tennis skirts usually provide some kind of inner pocket for this purpose.
Nowadays, as with many outdoor activities, manufacturers are providingclothing with an SPF factor. Even though we hopefully wear sunscreen when out on the courts, most people only apply the sunscreen to the exposed parts of their body. However, when we completely saturate a shirt with sweat (which can happen in less than thirty minutes in our climate), the protection from the sun for a regular non-SPF fabric drops significantly.
Let’s top it off at the top. I have been known for my giant sombrero for many years and I never go out on the court without it. While I would not necessarily wear it if I were competing in a tournament, I would wear some kind of cap to shade my eyes and face.
Along with this, I never go out on the court without wearing my sunglasses. Because I am now visually challenged, my sunglasses are prescription lenses, but even if you have 20/20 vision, investing in a good quality pair of sunglasses is a wise thing to do. Manufacturers such as Oakley and Bolle make sunglasses exclusively designed for tennis. See Photos 3 & 4.
The sport of tennis,as with golf, for better or worse, is very fashion oriented. The clothing manufacturers spend a lot of time and money in research and development, which leads to a very high quality product for us, the consumer. OK guys, I know we’ve all heard all heard it before…”You are not actually thinking of leaving the house dressed like that are you?!” Make sure you have proper shoes and dress the part. If you want to play like a champ, look like a champ! (See Photo 5, pro player Samantha Stosur shows us how to be properly equipped.)
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 23 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at the Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year round and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school.