Back to the newcomers specifically. You’re probably wondering what the point is of volleyball shoes anyway. How are they different, not to mention any better, than a set of generic athletic shoes—whether that be basketball shoes, running shoes, tennis shoes or, heaven forbid…skate shoes, flats, loafers, sandals, clogs or slippers? And even among the various brands and models of volleyball shoes available, are there any tangible benefits realized by taking the time to do some research before making a purchase, or all the options out there relatively the same?
The simplest and most obvious answers to these questions are: yes, there are differences between volleyball shoes and the other alternative options mentioned above, and yes, there are differences even among the set of volleyball shoes in the market that can make an impact on your performance. Let’s explore these key characteristics together.
I’m starting out with the feature that is personally most important to me when I’m playing volleyball; that being, how well my shoes grip against the surface of the court while making quick, jerky movements. From a purely physical perspective, you can move faster laterally and maximize the height of your jump when there is no slippage of your feet.
For those who may be new to volleyball, a common problem is a thin layer of dust collecting on the court, which then reduces the friction between the surface and the bottom of your shoes. I’d estimate I’ve licked my hands to then wipe down the bottom of my shoes while playing at least 10,000 times over the years. It sucks. A shoe with top-notch traction is a life-saver. Plus there’s the mental aspect. When you don’t feel totally stable that your shoe will “catch” when making a turn or coming to a sudden stop, you find yourself worrying about injuries when you should be focused on playing to the best of your abilities. I’ll pay $30-$40 more in a heartbeat for a pair of volleyball shoes that have superior traction and will last a longer amount of time than cheap volleyball shoes that are deficient in this area.
Basketball shoes or general indoor court shoes for racquetball, handball, etc. are good when it comes to this feature because traction is also important in these sports, and gameplay occurs on the same types of surfaces. But running shoes and most other types of footwear are simply not designed with the unique needs in mind of the athlete performing on a court surface.
Every season I’ve played, or coached, or have somehow been involved in volleyball—and I’m talking EVERY single season—I’ve witnessed volleyball players go down with gruesome ankle injuries. Whether it’s coming down from a jump and landing on someone else’s foot, or turning awkwardly and having the ankle roll inward (or outward, which is doubly grotesque), a shoe with ample stability in the ankle can help contribute an extra measure of protection to prevent this from occurring.
Again, basketball shoes get a positive tick in this category as it’s also an area of concern for basketball players. Volleyball shoes in general feature a relatively lower profile design, but they’re constructed in such a way that they support the ankle much better than what is found in most other types of athletic sneakers. There are slight differences among the “low-tops” and “low-to-mid-tops” that may or may not be noticeable to you.
Some volleyball players prefer the lowest profile designs because they feel more flexible and responsive. I would be included in this group, as I feel comfortable that I have learned to roll with my falls to avoid serious ankle sprains. Conversely, other players completely disregard this feature in their choice of shoes and instead pair them with an ankle brace.
Here’s where the basketball shoes get a negative ding. For as good as they are in the areas of traction and stability, they are almost always heavier (and simply feel boxier) than volleyball shoes.
Obviously jumping is important in basketball. Very important. But there’s something about volleyball players needing to stretch their vertical leap to its utmost limit over and over in a repeatable way that makes even an extra ounce or two a liability. It is often more of a mental disadvantage to feel heavy feet than it is a physical reality to have slightly weightier shoes.
Here’s where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the cats from the dogs. Volleyball shoes are designed with proper cushioning / padding / support in exactly the spots where it’s most needed relative to the common movements of the volleyball player. The same is done for basketball shoes, and guess what? It’s a different set of factors than what is relevant for volleyball. Same goes for running shoes—the rigors of running present a unique array of needs for the shoe to be as comfortable as possible in the places where problems typically arise given the activity involved.
The importance of a proper fit is one of the main reasons I created this website. If you’re purchasing a volleyball shoe online, it’s tough to know how well it fits until after you’ve ordered it. Now, everyone obviously has different-shaped feet and arches and sole width and whatnot; but by personally testing out many of the selections available (I do this for the men’s shoes, and get input from a collection of ladies for the women’s shoes), it helps provide a baseline level of understanding for the shoes that are constructed to feel most comfortable and supportive for the average volleyball player.
When it comes to how long you might expect your volleyball shoes to last, it’s tough to make an overarching comparison to other types of shoes such as for basketball or running. Among each type, you’ll find a range of average-to-great durability.
That’s what’s important to keep in mind when you’re making your selection for volleyball shoes. While it’s not a 100% direct relationship, the cost of a given pair of volleyball shoes is largely tied to the amount of use you should be able to get out of them. If you prefer to get a brand new pair every season, there’s not much sense in overpaying to get the most durable materials.
COLOR / DESIGN
As was mentioned above regarding durability, you will find a wide range of color schemes and design styles available for volleyball shoes just as you would if you were purchasing basketball or running shoes. And because color and design are such subjective aspects, it would be silly for me to say that one style is better than another. I have my preferences, you have your preferences. But it makes it on this list because the colors and design styles offered for different types of shoes is often a highly impactful point of consideration when making a final choice.
Be sure to take time to see what what’s out there and pick what you like most (or best matches your uniform) before you simply buy the very first thing you see.
The price of volleyball shoes is relatively high compared to more generic options, and that’s because of the research costs involved in developing technological advances which are specific to our sport. In addition, volleyball shoes aren’t in as high demand as basketball shoes or running shoes, so they can’t be as aggressively discounted based on volume of sales.
If you’re a casual volleyball player, I can’t in good conscience tell you that you need to be paying top dollar to get a premium option. I’d still make a strong recommendation to get volleyball-specific shoes, but at a lower price level.
For the competitive volleyball player, the extra dollars doled out for a pair of volleyball shoes that meet your most important, specific needs is well worth it to capture every advantage possible in performing at your highest level.
As a heads up, I plan to post individual follow-up articles in the near future that go into even more detail for each of these types of features to help educate you for your research process. In the meantime, post any questions you may have below and I’ll do my best to respond quickly.
Also, click here to see field-tested reviews of men’s volleyball shoes, or here to see the same for volleyball shoes for women. Many of the features mentioned above in this article are evaluated and expanded upon for your consideration.