What do you think when you hear the word shape? Today we're going to be applying that word in a footwear context. Every footwear decision ought to lead to a wearer to footwear that works for them. This is where the concept of shape enters the conversation. Walk into any shoe store and chances are you won't hear many discussions about what shape of shoe is likely to work best for your foot which is interesting when you realize that footwear is fundamentally a matching game. We're trying to match the shape of your foot with the shape of a shoe. While there are those who start with size I prefer to begin any fitting with shape as I believe it's a higher priority. I can give you a pair of shoes that are your size, but if they aren't the right shape I haven't done you any favors.
An engineering book I have speaks of the importance of early decisions in a process. The later in the process a decision is made, the less impact it has on the outcome. This is why I believe it is critical to determine what shape of a foot you have. Is your foot oval? Do your toes cascade down from greatest to least in a neat line, or does your second or third toe measure longer than your largest? Is your foot Fred Flintstone square, or do you have a narrow heel that gives your foot a triangular shape? Another factor that is rarely discussed is foot height since this isn't traditionally measured although if you get fitted for custom ice skates the circumference of the ball of your foot will be measured.
When you look at your foot you may not be able to easily identify what shape it is which is okay. You're not a footwear expert, but you are an expert on you. When you see shoes ask yourself, is this shoe shaped like my foot? Avoid thinking too hard or for very long about this, just answer the question and then try to determine why. Even a wrong answer can be helpful so dismiss your fear of making mistakes. Anyone who has ever attempted anything new is going to make some mistakes so be bold. Most of my job is recognizing rightness. Focusing on what is right is more efficient than trying to figure out what is wrong. It also prevents us from reinventing the wheel and discarding things that are working for someone which is a terrible waste of time and energy as well as a great source of frustration.
An exercise that may help you is one I use when I work with children. I have each child take off their shoes and trace the outline of their foot onto a blank sheet of paper. Seeing your foot as a two dimensional object can be helpful since it removes height and gives you a better sense of how your foot is shaped. It's not a perfect solution, but my goal is never perfection. My goal is recognizing rightness and disturbing it as little as possible. People tend to dislike change. Changing one thing changes everything. I see too many people who are messing with what is right since they can't recognize it for what it is. You ought to feel rightness of shape when it's on your foot. If you can't, you may need a coach to help you understand that the sensations you're feeling are strange, but that can accompany newness.
It can be difficult to listen to your body. I find this to be true of many of my adult clients. Children tend to be much better at recognizing what their foot likes, wants, and needs. This is what we're trying to determine when we start the footwear process. Starting with shape narrows the field. Footwear that fits well reveals foot shape. Let's take a look at some Major League players who are playing by the rules and then compare them to the shape rule breakers. Cole Hamels, Edinson Volquez, Mike Leake, and Brandon Phillips pass my eye test. Chris Bassitt, Troy Tulowitzki, Mitch Moreland, and Jeurys Familia; a short list of Major League Baseall players whose footwear is either hindering or harming them. There are no neutral footwear systems. Yours is either helping, hindering, or harming you.
I would rather see someone wearing footwear that is the right shape, but the wrong size than I would someone whose footwear is the wrong shape and the right size. Doubtless there are those who would argue with me. Ideally we want shape and size to be correct, but footwear tends to be an imprecise craft and sometimes the right shape and a size other than the one that was measured is the best option for a player. I think Cole Hamels is an example of that. I wonder if his footwear is slightly too narrow for him. I think it may be the wrong color, but that's a less important factor. Since the shape of his footwear is right, and he wisely chose fabric as a material instead of leather, his shoe stretches at the widest part of his foot.
Hamels is an interesting case because his feet are abducted. Free agent Tyler Clippard also has abducted feet. They aren't the norm and you need to understand how to capture that angle when you're measuring or risk really hurting someone if you give them shoes that haven't taken that angle into account. Remember that we want to change as little as possible, and we only want to change elements that we believe will net a more positive result than leaving things the way that they are now. It would take five seconds to recommend footwear for Cole Hamels that would make it very difficult for him to pitch as well as he does now. This is why it's so important to make absolutely sure that the changes we would like to implement make sense for an individual.
We can't feel what others are feeling. For argument's sake let's pretend that Cole Hamels is wearing the wrong size. We have access to him and have him try on the size that we believe is correct. If he comes back and says that he doesn't like the new size for X reason then we need to take his feedback into consideration which goes back to another point I made earlier. Sometimes new feels wrong and strange. Sometimes new is what is needed and people can't recognize better for what it is. Other times they are sensing or feeling something that we could not predict. The dialogue that goes back and forth between a wearer and a fitter must rest on a foundation of trust. If Cole Hamels doesn't trust me then I have no business talking to him regardless of how right I may be about his footwear.
A lot of people might think that footwear is about socks, shoes, and accessory products, but I believe that those are just the tools of a trade that requires the courage and empathy to work with other people. I can be the best in the world at what I do, but if I can't communicate the why behind what I do, if I'm rude, egotistical, or a know it all, I won't have many clients. Some sales people bully others into sales. Fitting can be a position of power where an individual who is frustrated and desparate is at your mercy. Clients always have the final say. They have the right to be wrong which can be a very difficult experience. Great footwear starts by earning trust and determining if you can work with another person as a fitter. The reverse is also true. I reserve the right to walk away from anyone who treats me poorly.
There are people who have thousands of hours of footwear experience who have never mastered shape as a concept. These people aren't necessarily stupid, they lack knowledge. When I was hired to work at a retail store in the mall shape was never discussed which is why you're reading this now. Companies want to sell shoes. I want to sell the right shoes and socks. I almost lost my job when a woman another employee was working with turned to me and asked what I thought about the black patent leather clogs she was wearing. I told her I wouldn't buy them if I was her. The sales person was trying to convince her that they would stretch, they would, but that wouldn't be good for her foot. He lost a sale, I got into a heap of trouble, but that woman was so grateful that she thanked me for my honesty.
Whenever I'm at the chiropractor I pick up his copy of Golf Digest. I love it for the footwear shots and their discussions on how feet and footwear can change the game. While I see plenty of golfers whose footwear could be improved I wonder if baseball could learn some lessons from that magazine. If you have a chance pick up a copy and study the footwear you see. Few other sports give us the kind of footwear shots that golf does. I could run a baseball footwear magazine if I had the right shots, but is that the right place to be focusing my time and energy when baseball is my passion? Learning to recognize rightness will serve you well in life whether it involves footwear, furniture, or fitness.