Strength and conditioning coaches preach balance, strength, agility and quick feet to be a successful player. That usually translates into power at the plate, quickness in the field, speed running routs, accurate kicks in soccer, throwing an accurate pass to a receiver, hitting a jump shot or a winning backhand on the tennis court.
When coaches evaluate and brake down players during practices and showcases they look to see how balanced they are and if the balls of their feet are on the ground.
It all starts from the bottom up, a solid foundation translates into positive results and if you’re lower half is weak it affects outcomes on the field. If you’re lower half breaks down it can affect your upper half resulting in muscle imbalances and overuse injuries. So whatever sport you play it is important to have good feet. That means feet that are balanced and quite in the batter’s box, on the balls of your feet behind the plate which will give you the quick release or pop time and the ability to respond to a ball hit in your direction when playing the field.
As a quarterback, foot work is extremely important, look at Tim Tebow. If their feet are not set and balanced when they are ready to throw a pass the outcome could be a disaster. If they have to throw off their back foot because that is the only option, the completion success rate will be less.
Tennis players have to be balanced and on the balls of their feet at all times. This will allow them to return shots on the court with more power and accuracy.
When evaluating player’s foot work no one ever considers the players foot structure. The foot structure or foot type; flat feet or high arches is a factor in determining how good a player’s foot work will be. It could be the difference between making the cut or not.
Flat Feet versus High Arched Feet
The foot is structurally designed to adapt upon contact creating a strong base with the ground and stabilize when running to propel you forward. However, abnormal foot mechanics can alter that design resulting in a reason for a player to have bad feet, a weak foundation and poor outcomes. If a player has flat feet they are more susceptible to being unstable and imbalanced.
This will affect quarterback’s when passing, receivers when running routs, offensive and defensive linemen getting a jump at the line of scrimmage when playing football or when playing baseball, hitting, fielding or pitching. Tennis players rely on their feet constantly and not being biomechanically sound can affect match play.
Players who have flat feet are more vulnerable to lower extremity injuries such as plantar fasciitis, arch cramps and muscle spasms, shin splints, knee problems and low back pain. It is a major contributing factor to fatigue and weakness in the athlete’s lower half.
Players that have high arched feet can develop similar foot and lower half problems but in my experience there appears to be more athletes with flat feet then high arched feet. High arched feet can lead to ball of the foot pain because of the design and slope of the arch. There is more pressure placed on the ball of the foot resulting in metatarsal head bursitis. Plantar fasciitis, arch cramps, muscle spasms, shin splints are other byproducts of this type of foot type.
Kids That Play Sports also Have Foot Problem
Calcaneal apophysitis or Sever’s Disease is a problem that can cause imbalance issues in younger player’s feet. Kids try and compensate to keep pressure off the affected foot. It occurs in kids around the ages of 10 - 15 years old that play football, basketball or baseball. Kids complain of pain in the back of their heel which can radiate into the ankle or lower leg when jumping for a ball and coming down on the hard dirt or running. The heel pain originates at the back of the heel bone where the two parts of the growth plate are fusing together. It is aggravated when wearing baseball or football cleats because of where the spikes are located on the heel of the cleat. It can also affect kids that play soccer or basketball or tennis too. This problem is self limiting and will resolve on its own when the growth plates completely close.
Although it is painful at times it will not prevent kids from playing any sport. Placing a soft insole in a cleat or shoe will soften the impact load on the heel. Having an orthotic made will also help reduce the impact on the heel and reduce the pain.
How to Stay Balanced
Most players young and old will benefit with some type of an orthotic device placed in their cleats to aid in balancing and supporting their feet during the sports they play. The benefits are to support the arch, control motion and realign the joints of the foot to become more stable which results in better balance. If the foot is stable the lower half will be stronger and the player will be able to generate more power through their lower half.
There are many types of orthotic devices designed to address the support and balance issues in sports but not specifically one sport. The more traditional types of orthotics are made by podiatrists who are doctors that specialize in foot problems. Hand casted functional orthotics fall into that category. They are permanent supportive devices made out of hard plastics, high density foams or graphite materials. Soft orthotics can also be made by foot specialists but are often times too bulky to fit in cleats or shoes. Prefabricated orthotics and over the counter arch supports are also available. These types of supportive devices can be found through the internet or at sporting goods stores. Instant Arches® Baseball or Softball is an over the counter arch product that caters to baseball and softball players as well as athletes that play all sports.
Staying balanced is one of the keys to success in sports and wearing arch supports in cleats or shoes depending on your sport can make a difference in a players performance.