Out of all the sports in the world, volleyball is the sport with the most jumping. Not even basketball can compare to volleyball in that regard, and it’s obvious that a movement as specific as jumping requires specialized footwear.
Volleyball shoes are different from your average training shoes because they stick to the floor, make jumping and landing easier, and they provide plenty of support for the ankles, which often get hurt during jumping.
Although you can start playing in literally any footwear, volleyball shoes will make it noticeably easier to play and they’ll take your game to a whole new level.
How do they improve your performance, though? What is so special about their design? And how do you choose and care for the right pair of volleyball shoes? These are the questions we’ll be answering today.
The Importance of Volleyball Footwear
You won’t use a hammer to dig a hole, and you won’t use a shovel to hit a nail, so why would you pull risky moves with non-volleyball shoes if you’re playing volleyball?
Proper footwear is incredibly important in all sports, especially if you’re playing at a competitive level. Volleyball players need to focus on other aspects of their game in comparison to, say, handball or soccer players.
For example, volleyball has a lot of quick, lateral movements, but it doesn’t have too much running. Even if you do run to catch a runaway ball, you’ll only make a few steps.
There’s much more running in handball and soccer, and their shoes are naturally lighter than volleyball shoes. Since your average soccer game can’t even compare to your average volleyball game when it comes to jumping, their shoes don’t have thick, padded soles.
Just how soccer players need extremely lightweight shoes with studs that will keep them from slipping, volleyball players need padded shoes that improve their jumping and cushion their landing.
If you wore flat training shoes while playing volleyball, your jumping would be incomparable to other players, and if the shoes don’t have ankle protection, you’re risking an injury.
What’s So Special About Volleyball Shoes?
Can you wear any shoes for volleyball? What makes volleyball shoes different?
Shoe design really does matter as there are stark differences between volleyball shoes and shoes for other sports.
The best way to explain this is through comparison with basketball shoes. You’ll see that while these two sports are very similar in some respects, their shoes are still different.
In the past two decades, volleyball shoe design has come very close to basketball shoes, which is why some people wonder what’s the difference between volleyball shoes and basketball shoes?
And while they’re definitely very similar nowadays, basketball shoes have even thicker soles than volleyball shoes because of how high basketball players jump.
They need that extra bounce to reach those heights, not to mention that it makes it easier on their feet. Because of soles that thick, basketball shoes are heavier than volleyball shoes.
Volleyball players, however, jump more frequently, which means they need shoes that can cushion hundreds of jumps. This is especially common during volleyball tournaments, which can last the entire day.
So, even though both of these shoes are built for jumping, basketball shoes help you reach greater heights, while volleyball shoes can cushion more landings and they aim for longevity.
Additionally, there’s much more running in basketball, which is why basketball midsoles use dynamic cushioning, just like running shoes!
The biggest similarity between volleyball shoes and basketball shoes is ankle support. Both of these sports are dangerous for the ankles because of the constant jumping, which is why you’ll sometimes see volleyball players wearing basketball shoes.
Speaking of which, do you know what you should wear if you don’t have volleyball shoes? There are a few alternatives, aside from basketball shoes, and they come in the form of tennis shoes, walking shoes, and cross training shoes.
They’re not the best options, and you’d definitely do better with volleyball shoes, but there’s no point in buying specialized volleyball shoes if you’re just checking the sport out for the first time and these will do just fine.
Key Features of Volleyball Shoes
There are a few things that set volleyball shoes apart: ankle support, sole thickness, weight, and grip.
Starting with ankle support, know that almost all volleyball shoes have advanced ankle support in comparison to other sports. Jumping is the most dangerous movement for the ankle, which is why volleyball shoes are tall and tight around the ankle, preventing sprains.
This doesn’t apply to all positions, though. Backline players don’t jump as often as frontline players, so you might see liberos wearing low shoes with no ankle support.
Then, we have sole thickness. Volleyball shoes have the second thickest soles (after basketball shoes) to cushion all the landings. This keeps your feet from getting tired quickly and prevents any injury to the heel.
We then have sole thickness and type. Remember how I mentioned that basketball shoes use dynamic cushioning in their soles, just like running shoes, because there’s plenty of running in basketball?
Well, since there’s very little running and a whole lot of jumping in volleyball, you’d destroy dynamic-cushioned shoes after just a few months. For this reason, volleyball shoes have thick cushioning that won’t wear down quickly.
Aside from shoe longevity, we’re also talking about the health of a player. Thin soles always, and I truly mean always, lead to heel pain because of all the jumping. This will distract you from your game and prevent you from pulling some moves you’d normally pull.
When we’re talking about materials, we’re actually talking about weight. Volleyball heavily focuses on a lot of small, but important movements with your feet. A player can make a dozen small, quick adjustments to plant themselves in the right spot.
This is why volleyball requires footwear flexibility, and that’s exactly what modern manufacturers deliver. Today, shoes are rarely made from leather and similar heavy materials. Various types of meshes seem to be the biggest trend nowadays, and for good reason – they’re light, flexible, and breathable.
An added bonus is the fact that lighter shoes strain you, the player, less. It’s much easier to make a hundred jumps in light shoes than in heavy shoes.
Something a lot of people forget about is that good court shoes need to stick to the court. Aside from volleyball, this is also needed in handball, for example.
There’s a lot of sweat on the ground and you don’t want to slip, which is why modern shoes include all of these curves and ridges that prevent the shoe from slipping.
To keep the shoe grippy, players will wipe them with paper towels or use grip spray (also known as sticky spray), while some teams have grip mats that all players step on before they start playing.
Benefits of Using Volleyball Shoes
Let’s expand on what we just looked over.
Because of their flexibility, volleyball shoes allow quick twists without straining you. This is especially important for backline players, which is why they often wear lighter and even more flexible shoes than frontline players.
Aside from ensuring that you don’t slip and fall, shoes with good grip are important for frontline players when they’re landing from a jump and when they’re attempting a swing block.
Swing blocks rely on the momentum you created with a small run, and when you quickly stop and force that momentum upwards into a jump, shoes with bad grip can slip.
Shoes with good grip, on the other hand, will make it easy to suddenly stop.
Soles are extremely important for frontline players – I’d dare say they’re not as nearly as important for backline players. When you’re jumping five or six times a minute, thick cushioning will make landings easy.
Your feet won’t hurt and tire as easily as they would if you wore thin-soled shoes, and this is crucial for players that play a lot. I know for a fact that I can play three sets in thick-soled shoes with ease, while I can’t say the same for thin-soled shoes.
Shoes with good ankle support protect the player’s health, which is at risk from all the jumping, and it’s also more important to frontline than backline players because of how much they jump.
With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see that volleyball shoes improve jumping, movement, and overall gameplay, all while minimizing risk of ankle injuries!
Choosing the Right Volleyball Shoes
There are two things to consider when you’re buying volleyball shoes: your position and your personal preference.
However, requirements change if you have a bad ankle and you need additional ankle support. In that case, you obviously need to prioritize your health, and even if you’re a libero, you should wear tall shoes with good ankle support.
If you’re playing grass volleyball, then you don’t need court shoes because grass grip and court grip are two entirely different things. You need shoes that adapt to the turf.
The same rule applies to outdoor volleyball on concrete – court shoes don’t work as well on concrete and you need shoes designed specifically for concrete.
If you have flat feet, cushioning is more important than anything else because you’ll quickly become uncomfortable in thin-soled shoes. Pick lightweight shoes with thick cushioning in that case.
Finally, there are a lot of players out there saying that most volleyball shoes aren’t adapted to wide-footed people. Even if the shoe checks all the boxes otherwise, wide feet make them uncomfortable. If that’s the case, you need shoes that are a bit wider than other volleyball shoes.
Some shoes are made a size larger or smaller, so you should keep that in mind when you’re buying, and it’s also important to think about your budget.
If you’re just starting out with volleyball, there’s no point in buying insanely expensive shoes.
Not only is it possible you’ll stop playing after a while and they’ll be a pointless investment, but you also won’t be able to appreciate them properly because, quite frankly, you don’t know enough about the game yet.
Budget shoes are a great place to start your volleyball journey.
How do you make sure your shoes last long once you finally buy them, though? That’s what we’ll see next.
Maintenance and Care
First thing’s first, know that most volleyball shoes have great longevity. They’re not immortal, but they’ll last much longer than most other sports shoes because of their thick cushioning. They’re simply made to be used and abused, in a way.
The first thing I’d recommend is drying your shoes in the sun every time after you use them. The inside of the shoes is going to become sweaty, which will make them sweaty (not to mention that the insides will start to deteriorate).
Open them up and leave them in the sun for a few hours.
After that, brush them with a soft brush dipped in a bit of water (you can use an old toothbrush), after which you should clean them with a paper towel.
To make sure they last a long time, keep them in a dry place (you can put moisture retainers in them to keep them fully dry on the inside), and don’t keep them near a heat source.
There are a lot of shoes I could recommend, and you can find the whole list here, but the three models I especially like are Asics Netburner Ballistics, Adidas CrazyFlight, and Mizuno Wave Lightning Z6.
The Netburner Ballistic has amazing cushioning accompanied with good traction, making it possibly the best volleyball shoe on the market today.
I recommend CrazyFlight because of the impressive jumping capabilities, which you might have assumed from the name. They also offer great ankle support, and despite their size, they’re still lightweight.
Albeit a bit bulky, Wave Lightning Z6 are very stable shoes with great cushioning, providing more than enough protection for your ankle. I’d say they’re an especially good fit for liberos.
Can I Wear Running Shoes for Volleyball?
You can wear running shoes for volleyball, but you’ll quickly wear out the sole because of all the jumping and you won’t have any ankle protection.
Can You Wear Any Shoes for Volleyball?
While you can most certainly play volleyball in any type of shoe, volleyball shoes offer noticeable advantages that will improve your game and it’d be best to play in volleyball shoes.
Can I Use Jordans to Play Volleyball?
Jordan’s don’t have thick soles and I can’t recommend them for volleyball. Nevertheless, you can wear basketball shoes for volleyball (Adidas’s Dame series is a popular choice).
Does a Beginner Need Volleyball Specific Shoes?
If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend playing in regular training shoes. If you decide to commit to the sport, then buy proper volleyball shoes.
Volleyball shoes are highly specialized, as you can see. They offer cushioning you won’t find in any other type of shoe, while they’re generally lighter and more flexible than other shoes of the same size.
You can definitely wear non-volleyball shoes for volleyball, but I’ll always recommend buying volleyball shoes because of the massive boost and ankle security they provide.
When you’re buying your shoes, make sure you’re properly informed on your position and any specific needs you may have as a player – buy the shoe that personally fits you!