As a player, there comes a moment when stepping outside in your volleyball shoes just feels wrong.
But is there anything to this feeling? In other words:
Can you wear volleyball shoes outside? Generally speaking, no: it’s NOT a good idea to do so. Most volleyball shoes are designed to give you an advantage on indoor surfaces, and some of this can be taken away when you wear them outside or on concrete. Grip is a major feature of volleyball-specific shoes, and this is the first thing to go when you wear them down.
Every time I take the plunge and purchase a new pair of volleyball shoes, I’m a little bit giddy for the next few weeks.
*I’m developing a theory about new shoes, haircuts & gear, and how they relate to volleyball performance in the first week of use… for more info on how that theory pans out, stay posted!
Wearing your new shoes is an exciting time, and they soon become my babies:
I’m extra sensitive to where they are at all times | only people whom I trust are allowed to hold them | and I want to make sure they stay clean and safe where possible.
But am I taking things too far?
This post will explore:
What is a volleyball shoe;
If it’s a good idea to wear your volleyball shoes outside;
Why you should probably avoid it;
If it’s really THAT bad, after all;
If you can you go running or do other sports in volleyball shoes, too.
What makes a volleyball shoe so special (precious)? What do volleyball shoes look like?
Let me preface this by saying one thing:
If you don’t have money to spare for a volleyball-specific pair of shoes, then you will be more than fine playing in your regular sports trainers, runners or any kind of athletic shoes.
There’s no rule against playing in different shoes, and it isn’t dangerous or unsafe either.
(Just the other day, actually, one of my teammates forgot his volleyball shoes and played in his walking shoes! It was hilarious, but no harm done--except to his ego, maybe.)
Volleyball-specific shoes, however, have a few features that general sport shoes don’t.
Grip is the main one.
Volleyball shoes are optimized to give you the most control when moving across the floor.
Since we play a sport which has us moving up and down, side to side, and every angle in between, it’s important to have a shoe that lets us do this.
The main grip characteristics for a good volleyball shoe are as follows:
Gum rubber sole;
Rounded edges around the toe and sides;
A slightly rounded heel; and
A flat base at the toes.
Most running shoes tend to favor a sharp sole (not rounded) because you are mostly moving in straight lines.
Volleyball shoes, on the other hand, should have a rounded base so that you can quickly shift your weight and change direction. This also makes volleyball shoes slightly safer when it comes to rolling ankles--a stiff sole won’t be as forgiving on quick direction shifts, and your ankles can pay the price for it.
Gum Rubber Sole
Unlike most running shoes which need to be used on a variety of surfaces, volleyball shoes are made for indoor surfaces.
Wooden floorboards and Taraflex surface courts are the most common, and they’re different to an outdoor track or concrete when it comes to grip.
Shiny wooden floors can gather dirt and become slippery in a matter of weeks.
For volleyball, this is a disaster.
I’m not one to complain about my tools, but without a decent pair of volleyball shoes--some indoor surfaces are just about impossible to play on.
You’re slipping and sliding so much that you can’t even begin to think about your technique.
For this reason, some top volleyball shoes have really narrowed in on gum rubber soles.
Gum rubber is a semi-transparent material which has far superior grip to other materials like solid rubber or polyurethane.
If you really want to nerd out on the best grip factors for shoes and slip-resistance, check out this article written by Japanese researchers in 2014.
Cushioning is another big volleyball shoe factor.
While I list this as a ‘safety’ thing, if you’re only playing casual volleyball it won’t be such a factor.
When you start to play more often, however, it’s important to take care of your knees and joints.
Volleyball shoes typically have a very generous cushioning design to absorb the shock of repetitive jumping.
In your average volleyball match, you can jump anywhere between 35 and 70 times. In practice, this number can jump up to over 100.
Having a pair of shoes that can help your joints cushion some of that force on landing could go a long way to improving your long-term health.
Issues like patella tendonitis and lower back problems are some of the most common volleyball-related injuries. And while even a pair of good volleyball shoes won’t save you, it can only help.
Which brands should you look for?
In volleyball circles, there has been, and forever will be, an ongoing battle between the Mizuno and Asics clans.
To be honest, I’ve tried pairs of both and I liked them all. Realistically, both of these brands are leaders in the industry and make great quality products. (I don’t get any money for saying that, by the way: it’s just undeniably true and good to know if you’re new to the volleyball scene).
Personally, I enjoyed the slightly heavier Asics shoe--it gave me a little more support, and the shoe seemed to last longer than the Mizuno Waves I had as a junior.
Then again, I haven’t played in a pair of asics or mizunos for over 7 years. Now I play in Nikes and other basketball-style varieties--but you can read more about there here.
Okay, I already have volleyball shoes… should I wear them outside?
Remember that gum rubber sole I was talking about?
Well, it turns out that it doesn’t do so well on rough outdoor surfaces.
Firstly, tough uneven surfaces like concrete or asphalt will wear down your soles much faster than indoor courts.
The harsh bumps can create minor tears and cuts in the soft rubber, which eventually leads to less traction for you out there on the court, and less control when you’re trying to make that quick defensive play.
Secondly, dirt and rubber don’t go so well together.
Wearing your shoes outdoors, they’re bound to collect some dirt and unwanted attention.
Even walking through the parking lot to your car can be a bad idea. Gripping designs on the soles of your volleyball shoes are good at what they do--but this also means that they’ll pick up tiny stones and sticks that might be lying on the ground.
When your shoes collect dirt or rocks in the sole’s design, this can also reduce their effectiveness on the court.
Lastly (for me, at least) style plays a role in choosing which volleyball shoes I want to play in.
I’ve had black shoes in the past which I loved, but more recently I’ve been playing in shoes with lighter colors.
Bad idea for going outside.
While those shoes looked fantastic in the first few weeks, they quickly collected dirt and lost their shine--even when I was careful to only wear them indoors.
Is it really such a tragedy to wear volleyball shoes outside?
No, of course not.
‘Not wearing your volleyball shoes outside’ has become something of a precious discussion in volleyball circles. Wear them outside, and you can be promptly outlawed as a barbarian without any sensibility or taste.
Okay, maybe not that far.
Realistically though, if taking off your shoes for the walk from court to car is a hassle, or you’re in a rush, or you just honestly don’t feel like it--it’s not the end of the world.
Wearing your volleyball shoes outside will definitely wear them down more quickly than if you stick to indoor use, but even the occasional trip in the rain won’t ruin them in one outing.
Can you play tennis in volleyball shoes?
Let me tell a quick story about this.
I met up with one of my teammates for a game of tennis this summer, but I honestly don’t own anything other than volleyball shoes, casual shoes and dress shoes.
So I decided to wear my older pair of volleyball shoes and just try my luck.
Of course, when we got there, the facility only had clay courts and our booked court was sitting there like a giant red death trap.
I tied my black KDs nice and tight, and I got out there for an hour of very sub-par quality tennis (which I painfully lost).
After the game, we walked to the change rooms, reliving our high and low points. I reached down to untie my shoelace and all I could was laugh--they were covered in red clay.
Reading this, you may have concluded one thing: that I’m not the brightest kid on the block.
And maybe this was a totally avoidable situation (it definitely was), but I give you this information for your own benefit:
Steer clear of clay courts with your volleyball shoes. Playing on indoor or clean surfaces is certainly okay and volleyball shoes may actually be a great substitute.
*Update: After running my shoes through a generous scrub and hand wash, they actually look better than they did before the tennis match. Disaster averted, we’re good to go.
What about other sports for my volleyball shoes?
You can, but be careful about which sport and how important your shoes are to you.
Running, for example, is something that you can definitely get away with if you’ll be running on a dry, clean (not muddy) path. In the rain, you’re better off going with an old pair of runners (or just not running at all, in my opinion!).
Basketball is a sport that you can DEFINITELY play with your volleyball shoes.
While diehard volleyball fans will be quick to point out the many differences between basketball and volleyball shoes: Honestly, the details are pretty minor. *If I'm way off on this, leave a comment below telling me why!
Wearing volleyball shoes for basketball is about the most ideal substitute for actually wearing basketball shoes, and the same can be said of wearing basketball shoes for volleyball.
Needless to say, football and soccer pose similar threats when played on muddy surfaces.
Not only is it a mess, but you just won’t have the grip needed to change directions on the grassy surface.
Yes, you can wear your volleyball shoes outside--but at your own peril.
Honestly, if you only own the one pair, and you have a substitute pair of runners or sneakers, I would try keeping your volleyball shoes strictly for indoor courts and surfaces.
It will save you in the long run, and it ensures that you’re getting the most out of those volleyball-specific features like grip and style.
Did I miss anything?
Leave a comment below letting me know which volleyball shoes you love to play in and why?
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