Turf toe

Today I would like you to meet a teenager who hopes and prays that his physical therapy regime will allow him to return to baseball. His story starts with a bad case of turf toe in both feet, and the realization that he needed a pair of size 12 cleats instead of the size 14 he had been wearing. I met this particular young man on Twitter after he sent me a DM asking for fitting help because he had recently received a pair of New Balance cleats for Christmas. While I’d love to pretend that I can instantly tell whether footwear fits, there are times when that’s not possible so I gave him my number and asked if he could call. I was almost in tears when I heard that he had blown out his left ankle while wearing the too long and overly wide cleats. He was stoic about the recovery process, incredibly so as I listened to what he does as part of his rehabilitation. I don’t know if you can feel determination in the voice of another, but if dedication and perseverance are what he needs to get back to baseball, he will undoubtedly return.

We went back and forth about the New Balance cleats he now wears. I sent him some pictures I had found of cleats that I thought might work well for him, but he ended up sticking with the pair he had received as a gift. Being a so called expert is a funny thing. People call, text, or DM me in order to hear what I have to say, and invariably I end up learning from them. Turf toe is essentially a sprain, and if your foot bends in a place other than where your shoe bends, you can give yourself this type of an injury simply by wearing shoes that are the wrong size. I can’t say for sure whether shoes that fit could have prevented turf toe development in either of his feet, or the injury that required him to have reconstructive surgery on his still growing ankle, because I can envision scenarios where both things could occur while wearing shoes that fit, but I do know that my life is better because somewhere out there a player I’ve not met in real life now wears cleats that fit.

Bony Prominence

His name isn’t a secret, but I prefer to keep it confidential to protect his right to medical privacy. We met some months ago on Twitter, and after a brief discussion I gave him my number so he could call if he ever wanted to talk about his feet. At eighteen he had already had surgery to replace an ulnar collateral ligament. As I listened to him speaking I marveled at how optimistic, yet realistic he was about his recovery which he described as long, drawn out, painful, and depressing.

After our talk we kept in touch via Twitter. He told me that he felt that cleats needed to be broken in, and I’m uncertain if he means what I do when I say that most shoes should be eased into regardless of whether you’ve had that style and model previously. I had to laugh when my client told me that he walked around the mall until he had a headache. Looking at people’s shoes to determine whether or not they fit can be exhausting, it’s also a great education as you start really noticing how many ways footwear can fail an end user. Since then my client has purchased new cleats, and I’m eager to find out how they will affect his performance when he returns to pitching.

I believe that a bony prominence on a foot could indicate ligament laxity elsewhere in the body. I’m wondering if there may be a connection between people who have the tell tale bone that others don’t on their instep, and a future proclivity for ligament failure elsewhere. So far this is the only person I’ve met who has both the bony prominence and had Tommy John surgery so I don’t want to make a larger deal out of a single occurrence than I should, still, it would be very easy to screen for this and track it if only to increase player foot health since that area is already being stressed abnormally.

Preserving player health

Today I read another article about a pitcher needing Tommy John surgery. Many have theories about why so many young arms bear this surgical scar. Sometimes it makes me cringe to see it bandied about casually, as if we’re dismissing what happens when a surgeon makes an incision and does what he or she needs to in order to reconstruct what will hopefully be a functional elbow going forward. For me Tommy John surgery is a colloquial part of baseball terminology but for others, it is their rehab, and their crushing reality.

Recently I read an article that stated that the number one way to prevent all injuries was to get enough sleep. Experience tells me that everything is worse when I’m tired. I’m clumsier, I can’t think as clearly, and I’m more likely to regret things I do late at night such as heading into the kitchen for a snack despite not really being hungry. Nutrition is another aspect that can increase or decrease health; there’s no mystery there although the people selling protein powders and shakes bother me since I feel as if the people purchasing them are being duped, but that’s a post for another time.

Hydration is another component of staying healthy. People know that they need to drink enough water to stay hydrated. That can become challenging when you’re standing beneath a hot summer sky for hours at a time whether you’re playing, practicing, or enjoying a day at the game. Rest is another factor that people need to consider if they want to stay healthy. Your body needs recovery time from lifting, running, or whatever you’ve been doing to train. Well rested athletes are less likely to become injured; they’re also more alert, and more likely to take things in stride as they go along.

My primary concern when I watch sporting events is footwear. I’m looking at every part of someone’s foot to see if I can determine whether their footwear fits. Most of the time I’m comfortable making a statement about footwear fit, but that isn’t always the case. I believe that Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have cleats that fit well, just as I believe that Ervin Santana does not, but sometimes I run into a Justin Verlander who wears Reebok cleats that are deceptive. His balance is wonderful, his cleats may be short, but they could also fit, and I wonder if that could be why he tends to be effective.

I believe that Justin Verlander would benefit from wider cleats. They wouldn’t need to be much wider, but it seems to me that his small toes are being pinched, and I’m wondering what would happen if we gave him footwear that allowed his toes to spread the way that yoga instructors recommend. One of the reasons I write is because I want to educate people. The right shoes are not going to hurt anyone. Shoes that fit will improve your balance, relax you, enhance your proprioception, and since feet are the foundation of your body, the right shoes are going to make you a healthier person from the ground up.

While I can’t say for sure that ill-fitting footwear contributes to the need for any type of surgery, I think it makes sense for baseball to rule out the factors that they can control that will also increase player health and wellness. Cleat fit can be controlled. Players can, and should, be measured for cleats. That’s the bottom line here. Measuring players for cleats is simply the right, fair, and ethical thing to be doing for people whose livelihood is on the line.

Focusing on Tommy John as an epidemic is understandable; however I believe that the injury umbrella is much broader and more insidious than that. As far as I can tell, cleated sports have no standard protocol to measure and fit players for footwear. This creates a liability for them that can translate into large sums of money being lost, but the bigger issue is what is it doing to the players, coaches, managers, and umpires who are being denied this type of preventative care?

In a game where everything is measured, there is a gaping hole that could be easily repaired. Measuring players takes mere minutes, people are buying footwear anyways, and I believe that the process could be streamlined to take a minimum of time since everyone is busy in today’s world. Preserving health is way more important than winning a ball game, even if that’s game seven of the World Series. No spine, neck, hip, knee, or ankle should be subjected to pain and discomfort that is preventable.

Often times we don’t want to admit that we’re part of the problem instead of being a part of a possible solution. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t bother with measuring at the MLB level since the budget exists for custom cleats that are constructed from an individual set of feet on out. I believe that the level of baseball we’re seeing now is a shadow of what we could be watching if cleats were made solely for their owners. I can see hitters improving, pitching would be better and more importantly baseball would lose fewer players for shorter periods of time to things like shin splints, inversion sprains, and ingrown toenails.

Tommy John surgery is the tip of the proverbial injury iceberg, there are many ways to decrease health, and there are also simple things we can be doing to increase and preserve whatever level of foot health people currently have. Footwear that fits is not the sole answer; it is a common sense approach to an area that has long been neglected for whatever reason. Take a minute to flip through old photos of previous generations of baseball; I believe that you will notice that posture and cleat fit degrade as you move towards present day ball players. Is it just a coincidence that we also have more players than ever needing UCL replacement?

Saberfeet: How healthy are your feet?

Where do we go from here?

Every so often I feel as if I should post something to my blog. Typically what happens is I sit down, type out what I want to say, and decide to scrap it during the editing process. This is silly, but that’s what happens, and I’m really not sure why which leads me to today’s thought. Before I get into the role of Saberfeet I want to make it clear that I’m not quitting, I’m just sharing what’s going through my head right now.

When I started Saberfeet, I think I thought that it would be easy to sell a simple concept. I can’t find anyone who says that people are better off if they are wearing footwear that does not fit. I also can’t find many who are willing to let me come into their school to measure various teams. The Athletic Director where I went to school told me that his coaches would be pissed if I took practice time away from the students, and turned me down flat when I offered to stop by after practice.

This coach admitted that he has several bone spurs and has to force himself to keep going past the first half mile of pretty severe pain when he runs. He wears his running shoes longer than he should, he wears two different inserts in each shoe with the idea that he’s giving himself more toebox room than he would if he had the same inserts in his shoes, but that isn’t really my point. A girl who goes to our church attends the same prep school that I did. That basketball player already has 1,000 points to her credit. She’s committed to a college out in Southern California, and I hope things go well for her.

Before I learned that she played basketball I saw her running around in the knock off Ugg type slippers that many teen girls favor. They were too short, and not wide enough, but I knew that her parents didn’t have a lot of money, and no one asked what I thought about her footwear. Two days ago that girl underwent ACL replacement surgery. I haven’t heard how the procedure went, but hopefully, no news is good news.

Since my youngest was a cheerleader this past year, I had an opportunity to attend several basketball games. I can say with a great deal of confidence that a company like Saberfeet is desperately needed, and I’m not here to prove anything, but if you want your athlete to perform well, you have to give him, or her, the right tools. Part of the toolbox that an athlete brings to their game is footwear, and what I really don’t understand is why people are so reluctant to take my offer of free advice.

Maybe I’m approaching busy people the wrong way. Maybe the idea really is too simple; the philosophy that people should be wearing shoes that fit is not complicated, but what I think is that people are lacking the exact kind of education I’m offering which is why they can’t perceive future value. I can’t say that the girl who now has a new ACL wouldn’t need that surgery had she worn better shoes, but I can’t say that she would either.

The only way to prove that Saberfeet works is for people to make changes because as my chiropractor said this morning, sometimes you don’t know how bad things are until they are no longer that way anymore. I remember taking my oldest daughter into the eye doctor when she was in second grade. I’ll never forget the excitement in her voice when she told me that she could see the letters on the wall. Her doctor told us that glasses were our decision, and I went ahead with them to add that clarity to her life.

Sometimes people just aren’t ready to hear what you have to say. You need to be a very patient person to radically change any current model, and even then you know that you’re not going to reach everyone. I am not patient. I’m very impatient, and since I have a tendency to be passionate about the things that I care about, it’s hard for me to step back and realize that seeds take time to grow.

A friend of mine on Twitter says that everyone has a theory on why so many people suddenly need Tommy John surgery. A lot of life is complicated because people make it that way. Food is complicated by those saying go vegan versus the crowd pushing the Paleo lifestyle. The truth is that your body needs a certain ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and it doesn’t really care what source they come from unless you happen to have food allergies or intolerances.

Wearing the wrong shoes is a bad idea. I don’t need a study to confirm that. Wearing shoes that fit is a smart idea. It isn’t any more difficult than that, and one of the fun parts of my job is helping people become more objective when it comes to selecting their footwear. It is amazing how illogical and irrational many are when they shop, and I include myself in this category because I know I have bad feet, yet I used to buy my shoes at Target.

Shoes that fit will be a better bargain than shoes that do not fit, yet many people I speak with are unwilling to shift the current paradigm. They think it’s a good idea, an athletic director I spoke with the other day said it sounded like a reasonable proposition when I asked if I could have a few minutes with each of his athletes, yet he still hasn’t called me back.

Any time you have a gift; to keep it to yourself is selfish, and unwise. Each athlete that has the wrong equipment is being denied the opportunity to perform optimally. Footwear is equipment, and now those two athletic directors are compromising the health and safety of however many students are in their program. They probably aren’t bad people, but they can’t see the value of me telling them how many athletes in their program are wearing shoes that do not fit.

For Saberfeet to work, people need to come to terms with the concept that their organization could be more efficient and safer than it is now. No one likes to think that their players are being compromised for any reason. It’s probably an ego blow to some to hear a middle aged woman stand up in the middle of a break out group and tell people that players are not being measured for cleats, but at the end of the day, I know something that will change lives, and I owe it to the world to share what I know because it is the right thing to be doing.

Saberfeet: Where do we go from here?

Arch length

This post is for anyone who wonders what it means to say that a shoe fits because knowing what should be happening when you walk into a shoe store will help guide you through the footwear selection process. First of all your fitter should be pleasant and there to serve you. They should ignore people who tell them that they don’t need to be measured, and then a hosiery discussion should take place. Ideally people will already own and wear socks that are appropriate for them, but the fitter should still discuss it in case the socks they’re currently wearing are an anomaly.

To give you the best idea of how your shoes will perform, it is advisable to try and recreate the environment in which the shoes will be used. Runners will want to come in after a run while a minister will want to come in after church. Each foot will be measured in a weight bearing position, and three separate measurements will be read; heel to longest toe, heel to ball of the foot (MTPJ), and width is obtained after you determine whether you are fitting to total foot length, or arch length.

Heel to longest toe gives you total foot length. This number does not always match the heel to the ball of the foot measurement which can be longer, or shorter than total foot length. Typically you will use the longer of these two measurements to determine the appropriate width measurement. Some people average these two numbers, I don’t recommend that, and would like to hear justification for it on a case by case basis. It is always appropriate to ask if you are unsure why a fitter chose a particular size or width for you.

Sometimes two pairs of shoes can be the same size, yet one will fit, and another won’t. Let’s take my daughter’s feet and the shoes we purchased for her yesterday. If you measure from her heel to her longest toe, you would probably grab a size 4 off the shelf, but if you fit to arch length, you will skip size 4 and pull a size 5 off the shelf since the 4 will not extend along the length of her arch. This is how you can get shoes that are the right size, but don’t fit, usually evidenced by creasing and pulling of shoe material across the vamp.

Putting my daughter in a size 4 shoe will short her arch. That means a portion of her arch is unsupported since her arch needs a size 5 shoe to be fully supported. Terms like pronation and supination are nice, however if arch length is not addressed, those conversations are futile since the medial arch in question isn’t being fully supported. Since my oldest daughter has a tendency to over pronate, a stability shoe probably makes sense for her, however if we put her in the best stability shoe money can buy, but fail to fully support her arch, what have we really done to improve her foot health?

Yesterday the fitter brought out a pair of children’s shoes for my daughter to try. They were a terrible fit so I questioned why he was bringing out a size 5 ½ for her since I couldn’t figure out where he was getting that number. Sometimes shoe stores don’t have the size that they need or want, but the wrong size can verify that a smaller size is needed which was hopefully the case yesterday.

Children’s shoes tend to run much wider than women’s shoes. My oldest daughter has a narrow, shallow, bony foot with long toes, and a very low arch. None of the children’s shoes fit her, but I found a pair of size 5 women’s shoes on the clearance rack, and for once I was really happy about seeing my daughter’s feet in a pair of shoes since the B width was much more appropriate for her than the D width of the shoes she had tried on previously.

Women’s shoes are much more expensive than children’s shoes even if the same size has less room and materials. Yesterday moving from a children’s shoe to a women’s size meant we were going to spend $120 instead of $60 because the size 5 clearance priced shoes ended up being too short for my oldest daughter. Had I not been there I doubt that we would have ventured into women’s sizes, and I know that the fitter we were working with would not have chosen the clearance rack shoe since he walked past them numerous times.

Had I not been there my children would have had their right foot measured, and arch length would not have been a consideration. Instead of selling us two pairs of children’s shoes, our fitter was able to sell us two pairs of women’s shoes which we both agreed fit better than anything the children’s line had to offer. I questioned buying the clearance rack shoes for my youngest daughter despite my happiness with the fit since a stability shoe can give a growing foot too much support, but the fitter agreed that her foot was not being overcorrected, and I felt that the neutral shoe did not fit well enough to warrant my shoe budget dollars.

If I’m selling shoes, I want to sell higher price point shoes. I also want to clear out sale merchandise to make room for summer shoes which should be hitting shelves soon if they haven’t already. I want satisfied customers who are going to return to my store, and tell their family and friends what a great experience my store is so they come in to shop.

That fitter we worked with gets an F in basic measuring skills. He failed to measure both of my children’s feet, he didn’t measure either of their arches, and he wasted time by bringing us several pairs of shoes that did not fit at all, and did not fit well. If I employ fitters, I want them to be ludicrously efficient. I want them to be able to put a footwear portfolio together, and had he been smarter, he would have tried to up and cross sell to us. My oldest daughter was wearing a very thin pair of socks, he could have offered to let her try on a better pair, and I probably would have bought them for her.

He could have measured both my husband and myself, and asked if we wanted a complimentary gait analysis. He could have asked me more questions, I picked his brain while I was there, and I deferred to him when his knowledge base was greater than mine because even people who don’t know how to measure know things that I don’t about the brands and styles that their store carries.

My kids were in the store trying on running apparel, our fitter could have gone to town on us, parents are captive audiences when their children are trying on shoes, anything that people touch should be mentioned because that’s smart selling, and my family saved money since he wasn’t as good at selling as he should have been, but is he really doing his employer any favors? I come to shoe stores ready to buy if I think a deal is too good to pass up as I have a good idea of what is out there, and what reasonable prices are for certain shoes.

Had that employee been mine, I would have had him shadow a good fitter and seller. Great fitters are a rare breed, but even a novice with no experience can be trained to use a Brannock properly. That man had a chance to earn more money than he did, learn more than he did, and instead of telling my audience how awesome that store is, now I don’t feel comfortable recommending them to people if that’s representative of their fitting crew.

My family walking into that store was a missed opportunity for them. We don’t look particularly wealthy, but I believe in good shoes, and we may not have bought everything he had us try on, but he could have gotten both me and my husband to at least try on shoes which would have been a more efficient use of his time. Not capturing arch length will break sales for people who understand how shoes should fit.

Shorting an arch increases the chance of a foot related injury since the support inside of a shoe is not lining up with the length of the medial arch of a foot, and that’s the essence of what makes shoes work for, or fail an individual. Many don’t plan footwear failure, they may have no idea that their arch length needs to be considered, and since many stores are not measuring it, they don’t know the value of that measurement.

By his actions that fitter told my children that measuring their feet was not that important when he only measured their right foot. Shoe companies assume a good fit when they design shoes. Ignoring arch lengths undermines shoe functionality and comfort. It predisposes people to injuries since no one performs as well in equipment that doesn’t suit them as they do in equipment that takes into consideration what makes them unique.

While I’m sorry that this phenomenon exists, I’m excited to be sharing this information with you. I can’t call it a business secret, but if I was in charge of anyone who had feet, I would be using this information to my benefit as enhanced foot comfort and better foot health hurts nobody. This is one of the reasons that Saberfeet exists because we know how to capture arch length, when to fit to it, and when to fit to total foot length. There are also times to break rules and occasions when Saberfeet will refer a client to a level of expertise that surpasses our own.

Good foot health is desirable, attainable, and affordable when you consider the alternatives. Acute injuries are a surprisingly small portion of poor foot health, the majority of feet were born with the capability of transporting us in a pain free capacity. Children should be safe when they’re running, jumping, climbing, sitting, standing, playing, and resting, yet the school my daughters attend is populated with parents who believe in education, but shod their children poorly.

You might wonder why, if arch length is as important as I keep saying it is, that people aren’t measuring it, and using it to guide their clients through the fitting process. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for that. Brannock has instructions on their site, and I wonder if the age of people buying shoes online has contributed to a devaluation of the role of the shoe fitter in modern society. People want cheap, many want service right to their door with no hassle returns, and a trip to the shoe store will cost more in gas money, time, and sacrifice convenience.

Maybe they don’t want the high pressure sales tactics some shoe sales people employ. I don’t blame them. I don’t want that either. Often I can see things the way that they could be. I can see a family walking into a shoe store needing new footwear, being instructed, educated, and fitted for shoes and socks. After that we can drive down to Miller Park, maybe we packed a cooler, or we spring for concessions at the game because it’s a treat I didn’t get when I was a kid.

Things that are done well are a joy to behold. Can you envision the day when you go to a game, and every person there has footwear that fits? This could be me, but the grass is a more brilliant emerald while the chalk lines are purer, cleaner stripes of unmarred white. The sky is that special shade of blue that helps you forget about whatever problems you have at work, school, or home, if only for nine innings at a time. I can see that day, and I think you can too.

We know there’s a better way to fit, and if we’re patient, we might live to see that game together. Until then it is up to us to keep spreading the word, to keep our eyes honed on good cleats, and those that could fit better. We’re helping people; players, fans, coaches, bat boys, trainers, parents, children, because shoe fitting is a universally good way to enrich the lives of everyone you know, even the people who don’t have feet because it truly is better to give than to receive, and genuine smiles are often generated when people share meaningful experiences like the one I just shared, with you.

Saberfeet: What if everyone wore shoes that fit?

Cleat wars

On Friday afternoon a friend of mine told me I should check out the official Twitter page of the Vanderbilt University baseball program. Not knowing what to expect, I found myself studying pictures of the black and old gold Nike cleats that players will be wearing this upcoming season. After I retweeted a couple of pictures I received feedback from another friend of mine who said that he liked the cleats, along with a comment that said that he hoped and trusted that they fit well.

Hope and trust, let’s think about what those words mean. I hope and trust that my husband is not cheating on me while he’s out of town, but if we’ve had a rocky relationship in the past, how can I know with any degree of certainty that he’s being faithful down in Dallas? This may seem unrelated to footwear, but I’d like to suggest that my comparison isn’t so farfetched since many are habitually cheating their feet out of comfort, and then hoping and trusting that body parts they have abused and neglected are going to function well, and will continue to improve as they head to Spring Training.

As I research the cleat selection process I’ve had the opportunity to speak with people at every level of baseball, from tee ball, and little league, up to the big leagues. During my quest I’ve spoken with high school and junior college coaches. They told me I needed to speak with D1 coaches so I did. An MLB strength and conditioning coach reached out to me on Twitter because he thought I had insight into the role footwear can play in injury prevention, and I was honestly shocked when he explained that agents purchase footwear for players and arch length is not a factor, a consideration, or a known variable.

Several people suggested I speak with footwear companies directly. I used to work for a manufacturer so I have a pretty good idea of what those organizations want. They want to sell shoes, they want to sell a lot of shoes, and they don’t always care how those shoes are sold as long as they keep selling more shoes than they have previously. When I spoke with someone who is in the know at Under Armour he said that while it would be nice if players were measured for footwear, it was too time consuming, and not their responsibility to measure, however he also copied me in an email he sent to a distributor I spoke with who told him that if I was ever in town, he should make meeting me a priority.

Throughout my talks with people, I can’t find any team that is routinely measured for footwear. I can find the odd player who has been measured and/or accommodated, but I can’t find a coach, equipment manager, GM, front office employee, or MLB Director of Baseball Operations who can tell me that players are being measured for cleats. I have learned a lot about what role the team podiatrist and orthotics people play, and as someone who used to speak to these people daily, it is my professional belief that they are undervalued, underutilized, and riding a fine line because putting the world’s best orthotic in a shoe that does not fit can compromise feet, and even ruin promising careers.

The gentleman who trained me has worked with athletes in other sports. I could name an NBA player who has been sidelined due to a debilitating tendon injury, but I will respect what he shared in confidence.  When I talked to my friend about the fit issue he said it was everything he could do to get the player into a shoe that was a size larger than he had been wearing, but still wasn’t what this player needed in terms of total length. Orthotics are a piece of the puzzle, but they’re a product with limitations that need to be understood by the end wearer, or the entire system can jeopardize foot health.

When I sold shoes to the O&P market my boss explained that those people were great at measuring due to their precision, but many practitioners didn’t want to get involved in shoes because a two hundred dollar pair of shoes is less profitable than a prosthetic leg that can be billed out at seventeen thousand dollars, or more. Suppose we have a world class prosthetic limb, and there are lovely ones out there, what have you done to your new leg if you put a K-Mart shoe beneath it? First time amputees are immediately at risk for a second amputation. Does it make sense to spend that kind of money on a leg, and undermine that work of bio-mechanical art  by giving the only foot someone has a shoe that may fit, but falls far short of ideal footwear?

As a player, do you want good enough, or do you want the best? Do you want to hope and trust that your cleats fit, or do you want to know that you’ve taken a couple minutes out of your busy day to pay attention to your feet and examine them for red spots that could be an indicator of a more serious problem. Did you know that things like ingrown toenails, calluses, and blisters are usually a footwear issue that can be resolved once the underlying issues that are causing them are removed?

Do you want your pitcher walking out to the mound with cleats that are too short? What if you could look at a hitter’s feet, and pitch to his footwear weaknesses because a player who has trouble moving laterally will be easier to pull off balance than someone whose feet are more stable. Would it be fun to stand sixty feet and six inches away from someone who practically falls over trying to swing at a pitch because their cleats are too narrow?

Now flip that scenario around, and think about how you would feel if you saw a member of your team being humiliated after falling to the ground because they missed a pitch. What if you could give that player more lateral stability and help him run more efficiently so he didn’t fall over as often, or possibly not at all? What if cleats that fit gave a player that split second to cross the plate safely instead of being called out at home?

I’ve spoken with players who are recovering from injuries, and I’d like to thank everyone who has been willing to help me out with this project, because this is a chance to be part of a grassroots movement that addresses the need to measure feet as an integral and non-negotiable portion of any athletic program because I can’t think of any athlete who will be leaving their sport and not depending on their feet to transport them unless they are already missing one or both feet, or they currently rely on wheelchairs to propel them. If you don’t like the feet you have, talk to me, because I can sell you new ones, and unfortunately, a lot of people have met me because a surgeon removed some or all of a foot they had at birth.

Many have told me that I need science to back my argument. They want to see which injuries can be prevented, or know how a different set of cleats will affect performance. I believe that I can give people that kind of information, however in order to do that, we need data. We don’t know who is in a position to benefit from a footwear change until we have identified the population that is already wearing cleats that fit.

Once we know whose cleats fit, we can work with what I refer to as the at risk population. Anyone who is wearing improperly fitted footwear is automatically at risk in the same way a car that has been outfitted with tires that are too large, too small, or too narrow will be less safe than the same car that has tires that fit. A car with three tires that fit will still drive, and the owner may not realize that anything is out of the ordinary. I know because a car of mine was in an accident and I later found out that the body shop put the wrong sized tire on my vehicle which ended up costing me quite a bit of money because the body shop replaced my tire, but I was stuck paying for my car to be realigned.

It takes less than two minutes to measure someone for footwear. A Brannock device is inexpensive, and it will last a lot longer than a Brent Lillibridge roster stint on any given team. If I was in charge of a team, I would make measuring a team event, but not mandatory. I want to know who cares enough to show up at what some may think is a frivolous or unnecessary experience. I believe that baseball will be a better, safer sport if the only thing people did was start measuring players for footwear.

What would happen if we charted how many players are wearing cleats that fit, determined the variance, and compared that with a list of people on the disabled list? What if Bryce Harper wouldn’t have missed playing time because he had an ingrown toenail? How many players are great because their footwear is giving them an advantage lesser players could use? We don’t know, and unless we start measuring, we’ll never know what baseball could have been had we had this data to analyze.

How do I know this? I guess the only way to satisfy both of us is to start doing what hasn’t been done before. Can you think of a good reason to not measure players now that I’ve explained that the cost and time investments are minimal, and we could mine performance plus injury data? A good shoe store will loan a coach a Brannock device. Measuring will save time and money. It will make ordering cleats much more efficient, and the return rate should go down as teams become more proficient. Suppose that you need to order several pairs of shoes for each player on your roster. Do you want to hope and trust that people know their shoe sizes, or would you rather take a few minutes and measure so you are safe instead of sorry?

Until players are measured, we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know if we can get players to run faster just by changing the shape of their cleats if they’re currently wearing the right size. That’s getting ahead of the measurement discussion, but I spoke with a player who said his base running times decreased when he stopped wearing his football cleats for baseball. I also spoke with a teenaged player who is recovering from a severe ankle injury. He was wearing a size fourteen cleat, he’s since dropped down to a size twelve. Do you think that him wearing the wrong size contributed to his ankle injury or him developing turf toe in both of his feet?

The bottom line: measuring players is a way to address what I see as a baseball inefficiency. At two minutes per player, and a no cost Brannock device if you can borrow one, the time and money arguments fail. A school like Vanderbilt University that can afford to provide its players with the gear that I saw being distributed ought to be able to fit a Brannock device into their budget, and if Nike was smart, they’d include a one for each team that purchased footwear from them since their product reputation is riding on the line, and it doesn’t matter how pretty cleats are if they’re responsible for a player being sent to the disabled list.

As a coach, I want my bases covered. Measuring will take a bit more time, and it’s going to add a new layer of stress to the coaching position, because as people get into measuring, they’re going to start learning things that they didn’t know before, but if we can figure out how to hurl a ball more than a hundred miles an hour, and calculate numerous advanced statistics, I’m confident that we can learn how to measure feet especially since a link to the Brannock website is only a Google search away.

Good coaches are going to be proactive about player health and safety. They want their players to have every advantage, and minimize the risks that they encounter. Baseball can be a dangerous game. Feet can get a player out of the way of a line drive, they can be used to steal second, and they will still work if they don’t have gear that fits, but what more could they be doing if they were given an opportunity to step into the batter’s box, or on the mound when they function as a flawless extension of an elite body?

I started this monologue with the words hope and trust. I hope you’ll think about what I’ve said here, and I trust that this is going to resonate with someone. Measuring people is the right thing to do whether it costs time, money, or both. I’m comfortable stating that the injury rate will fall as the percentage of a roster wearing cleats that fit rises, and you can disagree with me, but I’m going to need proof before I accept that argument as valid. The only way to prove that cleats are enhancing or hindering performance is to measure, and if you ask me, that is precisely what we should be doing anyways.

Saberfeet: Measured solutions for the feet of baseball’s future.





Dress Shoes For Men

Although many believe that women control the footwear market some of the costliest shoes in the world have been designed with men in mind. When I sold shoes in a retail environment I came to appreciate the differences in the way that men and women approach footwear. Many who walk into a store are guarded. They fear that an aggressive sales person is going to chat them up so they can chalk up another sale. Suppose that is true. You are at the store for a reason. Wouldn’t you be better off utilizing the free resources at your disposal?

My experience is that people who work at shoe stores are often ill-treated so I figure that they deserve kindness since they’re on their feet working an unenviable job for not as much money as they’d like to be earning.  Irrational empathy may not be your style, however consider that shoe stores are expected to be the miracle workers who can heal foot problems experts haven’t been able to correct. They should also be able produce the perfect pair of correctly priced shoes that can be worn to a business conference, the golf course, and out to the theater while their owner travels.

Typically shoppers walk into shoe stores with little understanding of what they need. They lack the education and skill set required to make informed footwear decisions so they get swept up in the price or brand name game. Shoe store employees are generally not allowed to think for themselves so customer and clerk are adversaries in a primitive relationship. Sales associates are so used to shopper abuse that a genuine greeting will confuse them. Try smiling before you explain that you aren’t planning on purchasing anything, you’re gathering information to determine which shoes will work best for you.

Dress shoes are wardrobe builders. A great pair of dress shoes that fits well can take you through the airport, and attend a business luncheon. The same shoes can speak at a board meeting and kiss a lover later. They can be worn with dressier trousers or a nice pair of jeans. Your partner, parents, or significant other won’t argue about your choice since this one pair of shoes is insanely comfortable, and seems to go with practically everything apart from your tuxedo and your bathing suit.

Fit is the most important aspect of any shoe. Shoe store employees may not always know what fits, but they will know what doesn’t if they’ve had the proper training. Understanding what shape your foot is, and how a shoe is supposed to fit is crucial to a good shopping experience. This is where product knowledge becomes important because the features of a shoe are useless to you unless the shoe fits the way that the manufacturer intended it to fit.

Black is the obvious choice for dress shoes, however much can be said for branching out into other colors once you’ve resolved fit. What you wear makes an immediate statement about you. It shouldn’t be that way, but since people are going to judge you based on your appearance it makes sense to present the best of you to everyone since you never know who you might meet where.  A confident well shod person who minds their own business is going to attract a lot of attention regardless of where they go.

Overall, people who shop for fit will be more satisfied than people who head into a shoe store searching for any other specific. Try asking for comfort when you walk into a store. How does anyone else know what you will find comfortable? What if the shoes an employee can wear for hours are too supportive for your low arch? Many people who work in shoes get paid on commission. Stores want to be profitable, and they want to sell a lot of shoes. Discriminating stores will understand how to differentiate between people who are there to shop and people who are there to buy.

A manager I once worked for used to say that a trained monkey could sell shoes if they worked at a shoe store. When I sold shoes, I didn’t want people walking out the door with just anything because if what you sold comes back as a return, the commission that you thought you earned will be reversed when the next payroll cycle runs. There should be two types of experts at shoe stores; well-trained footwear experts, and individual experts. You should be an expert on what feels good to you, and the footwear expert should be able to guide you through the sales cycle in a manner that makes you feel as if your time and money were invested rather than just spent.

You should walk out of a shoe store confident that your decision making skills were honed and respected. Selling shoes is not a glamorous or particularly profitable line of work. It’s a lot of up and down, it’s people who walk in without a clue about their feet, and as you go up in the footwear world, the types of people you see don’t really change. I should have walked out after a new manager who had never sold shoes before threatened to slap me. We were standing in back when she told me that I was insubordinate and she wanted to slap the smile right off of my face, but I didn’t believe in myself back then so I let her talk to me that way.

As a fitter, as a customer, you have the right to treat yourself with respect and dignity. The easiest way to earn respect is to give it to every jackass, fool, moron, and inconsiderate bitch that you meet because that’s the only way you’re going to find out what they do with your respect. Once you discover that they don’t respect you, you can still respect their right to shop at a store that you work at, however you can flip on the disconnect switch so you stop taking their behavior personally. A lot of people have been burned at shoe stores. Your job as a fitter is to understand that people are defensive, and sometimes they’re really intimidated by someone seeing their feet as there is a perception that feet are ugly.

Feet aren’t ugly, people are ugly. Behavior makes people attractive. Lack of common sense and courtesy robs people who may have the bone structure that society at large calls beautiful. Learn to look beyond that, and once you start reclassifying and defining people, you will find that the world is full of people like the veteran who took his prosthetic leg off and told me that it was our country that he served after I thanked him for protecting my country. As a fitter, it should be an honor and your pleasure to work with the people who are responsible for your paycheck. Love what you do, and the love will come back to you in the most unexpected and thrilling ways.

Everyone who works at a shoe store knows something that you don’t. It may have nothing to do with shoes, but as a fitter, I’m listening for the hungry learners. Those people who don’t care if I’ve worked there for a day, or made a career out of kneeling down in front of others with the goal of a good fit in mind. Jerks are out there, but so are kinder hearts. You can learn from these people, or you can allow their narrow mindedness to warp and distort you. It’s a choice, and it’s up to you to be silky smooth right until someone runs into the steel hard core of character that defines you.

To close, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. We’ll call him Joe. It was almost closing time when Joe came in with his girlfriend. Never assume that half of a couple is there to buy. That’s prejudice, and more than any other intangible prejudice has the power to affect your ability to reach others. Joe was there to get information so that’s what he got that evening. After trying on what he said were the ugliest pair of shoes that he had ever seen, he said that he would consider going to a podiatrist to address his pedorthic issues.

That was Wednesday evening. People come and go so I forgot about Joe’s promise to return for a while. Saturday I was in back when a fellow employee told me that someone was there to see me. Thinking it was my family, I grabbed the four pairs of shoes I needed for the customer I was assisting, and went out to see Joe standing next to a group of people. The family that was waiting for me was on the left side of the store while Joe and his family were on the right. When I had a moment Joe introduced me to his parents, his sister, his girlfriend, and his grandmother.

A comfortable pair of dress shoes that fits well is attainable, desirable, and affordable. They can be yours when you have the ability to communicate your needs and desires to someone who works at a shoe store. Think of yourself as a goodwill ambassador whose sole mission here on this earth is to recognize that everyone wants to do their best, and you don’t know what their best is unless you have the patience, integrity, and commitment to bring it out in embittered employees. Being your best can lead you into uncharted territory. You’re not good when you can sell more shoes than anyone else, anyone who works in a shoe store will sell shoes. You are great when people you’ve told uncomfortable truths to seek you out after they’ve left your presence.

If you work in sales and your customers are not selling for you, then I question whether you’ve chosen the right vocation. Selling to one person at a time is inefficient. Sell to the family, the friends, the neighbors, the homeless, the security guards that are on their feet all day. Befriend and champion the unkind because a lot of times, these people are acting the way that they are because they expect to get ripped off at a shoe store. Market and sell yourself as a brand, and you may get the calls that people want to open their own shoe stores, however it’s the hushed conversation where a woman who complained about a pair of shoes tells you about having to run in them after her son pulled a gun on her and her husband that will forever change how you view a career in footwear.

Saberfeet: How much life is in your shoes?


Batter Box Fitting

Batter Box Fitting as a footwear innovation stems from the idea that cleated hitters are not going to be crossing a sales floor the majority of the time, and those surroundings do not mimic the environment or conditions that players will encounter during a game.

The time to measure feet is right after they’ve been used in the way that the shoes they’re trying on are going to be worn. Your goal as a hitter should be to get as close to the surface that you’re going to playing on as possible, so I’m proposing that people try cleats at the cage or diamond before they buy them to see how they’re going to work in real life.

When I fit people, I explain that each of us has a job. My job is fit, and their job is feel. When we agree that a pair of shoes fits, and feels good, our respective jobs are done. Fitting can be fun for both parties, it can also be frustrating for people who are being fitted as many think too hard when it comes to shoes.

As an athlete, you can listen to your own body better than anyone else can. Trust that skill, and take advantage of the information that is out there. Beware of meaningless marketing terms, and tantalizing custom color schemes. Are the cleats that Andrew McCutcheon wears really going to make you a better hitter if you have a Juan Uribe shaped foot?

Have you ever been so excited about a product that you wanted to pick up your phone and tell the world about it? That impulse should be driving your footwear quest. Every pair of shoes you own should feel that good beneath your feet. They should simultaneously energize and relax you.

If that sounds like a paradox consider that shoes either fit or they don’t, and footwear that doesn’t fit will be causing you to store tension. After that tension is released, your body will start to relax, and the energy that was previously bound can now be utilized to help you accomplish the tasks that are leading you towards eventual goal achievement.

To return to Batter Box Fitting, this is the only way to fit hitters for cleats in my opinion. I can hear objections about shoe companies not wanting to take back cleats that someone has worn, the reality is that this happens every day, and it only serves to emphasize how important a good fitter is because your fitter will save you time and money by recognizing which cleats are likely to fit straight out of the box.

Fitting individuals in a store isolates them from the rest of the team. Ideal cleat fitting is a team ritual because teammates will be able to see changes that a hitter may not be able to, and people who have a stake in how you perform are going to be invested in another player, and see them as contingent on future success rather than a short term shoe sale.

Team strength hinges on the performance of the weakest player. Sooner or later that person is going to be in a clutch situation, and the team as a whole needs that player to perform when it’s required. The more information players have about how cleats should fit, the sharper their mental game will be because the ability to analyze footwear is batting power that never slumps.

This increase works for them on two levels. First it improves their team, however they aren’t going to forget how to read cleats in a game situation. Baseball is a mental game, and the ability to read an opponent’s footwear is a critically under rated skill as everything a player does is contingent on the foundation that rests beneath them.

Shoes are static and reactive. Feet and players are dynamic, and proactive. What kind of a mentally strong team would you have if every member knew that they were wearing cleats that fit, and they could immediately analyze an opposing pitcher’s cleats and footwork?

As a parent, I use smile power to let my children know that I’ve noticed their undesirable behavior, but I’m waiting to bring them to battle on my terms. Isn’t that analogous to what a batter needs to do when they step into that magical box? Don’t they need to be so calm, relaxed, and deceptively sleepy that pitchers are fooled into thinking that they’re an easy out?

You can’t manufacture a genuine smile. It must come from deep within you, well up, and radiate out. A smile tells people that they can do whatever they want, but your inner peace is untouchable. Let that concept guide you through the shoe fitting process as well. When you can stand in a pair of cleats, look around, and smile, those are the cleats for you.

Baseball is a game. Games should be fun. People play to win, and winning is fun. Relaxed people are fun to be around. Hitting coaches talk about tension in a player’s grip when the bat is in their hands. Cleats that fit relax a hitter’s feet. Your body will automatically tense up if it senses that you are unbalanced.

There are players who are so mentally strong that they override the signals of discomfort that their body is sending them. I can write this with a smile on my face because I know that I’ve got this. A genuine smile is evidence of relaxed confidence, that’s what you need from a fitter, someone who will work with you until they’re confident that you are.

I shouldn’t tell you this, but I actually know very little about hitting a baseball. So why should you listen to me? Intelligent people realize that there are millions of footwear choices out there, and few experts who are willing to take the time to guide them through the Nike, Under Armour, Adidas jungle.

If you can’t look at a player and make an educated guess about whether their footwear fits or not, hone your observation skills because the greatest pitcher is only as good as the foundation their feet are resting upon, and that will give you a competitive advantage before you ever step into the batter’s box.

Batter Box Fitting; because hitters aren’t striking out on the sales floor, and no one hits the game winning walk-off there either.

I figured it out

Sandal time

Every year my oldest daughter picks out the same pair of tangerine sandals. This is a shot I took with my iPhone when we were down in Florida. I remember tweeting it, and I was gratified when @Keen retweeted a shot that showcased their brand. We came home not long after this picture was taken, and my daughter spent five days at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee over the Fourth of July during 2012 after lab work that was done on Tuesday, July 3rd came back abnormal.

My daughter hadn’t been feeling well on Monday. She had been limping and listless since we had gotten back from vacation. I’m a chronic worrier, but after two weeks of her not being herself I decided to take her in to see her pediatrician. He said that he was going to order labs just to rule out any type of infection, and I remember her bewilderment when we explained that she couldn’t have anything to eat or drink in case she had to have emergency surgery.

I never expected an osteomyletitis diagnosis when I took her in, I knew something was wrong, intuition told me that, but I didn’t know what it was. As a mom with a footwear background I had examined her foot carefully. We couldn’t find anything wrong with it until her pediatrician had her turn over, and I saw the swelling behind her heel. Jill came home with a PICC line in her arm, and for the next month her meds went through there.

Osteomyletitis used to be an untreatable condition. People lost limbs and extremities until science discovered that antibiotics could be used to attack the infection. Although they did a needle biopsy, the culture was inconclusive so we still don’t know how she picked up the bug, or which microbe was residing in two of her bones. Today she’s a petite twelve and a half year old with two feet that work, but had I ignored her foot when others told me that it was growing pains, we might have had a different story.

Which leads me to what I’m doing here. I’ve written about the tremendous outpouring of support I received from the Twitter community when I tweeted that Jill was going to Children’s Hospital. My account wasn’t new, but I wasn’t the most active or impressive tweeter back then. I knew a few baseball fans, and that was pretty much it. They were encouraging, they were there for us, and when your child is critically ill, your priorities change dramatically. You don’t care about paying bills or showering; you want food, sleep, and peace of mind that the medical experts aren’t giving you.

Saberfeet started when my passion for health, safety, baseball, and feet collided. I’d love to say that I have the answers, but the truth is, I have more questions than I do information for people who are coming to me for advice. Saberfeet is a company that asks tough questions because life isn’t easy, and I’m not going to pretend like it is. The good news is that we don’t have to face situations alone, and what you’re seeing right now is the culmination of thousands of hours of frustration, a couple people who believe in me and what I’m doing, and someone who signed me up for this account.

No one taught me how to shop for shoes when I was in school. When I started selling shoes, no one told me that I had the power to ruin feet. The very people I trusted sold me shoes that were more than two sizes too large for my two differently sized feet. I wore them until I developed severe swelling because they were the experts, and I didn’t question my discomfort. That was my experience, but fortunately, it doesn’t have to be yours.

What can you expect from Saberfeet?

1. You have the right to be treated with dignity.

2. You have the right to comfort, and only you can decide what feels good to you.

3. Saberfeet wants your shoes to fit. That’s why we measure, but since shoe fitting is art kissing science, there is a time and a place to abandon conventional wisdom. We’ll discuss that with you if you happen to be someone who needs that type of a consultation.

4. Saberfeet may not be right for you, and that’s okay. Our primary goal is education. We’d like to think that we have something for everyone, even if it’s a smile because we believe that genuine smiles are far too rare.

5. Saberfeet can work with any budget, but you have to be willing to share your budget with us. No one should be denied resources or education simply because their footwear budget is zero. We don’t have any money either, but we don’t worry about that since money is just a tool, and we have plenty of other tools to work with in our box.

Saberfeet isn’t here to make money. That might not be the smartest business plan ever, but Saberfeet is a crusade. We’re on a quest to see if we can learn whether Tommy John is a preventable surgery, and as we go, we’ll be collecting information from the feet and people that we’re working with. Saberfeet has a theory that a certain percentage of injuries occur because people are wearing shoes that fail to meet their individual support needs, and since people haven’t been taught how to select footwear, or purchase it as a system, they need the type of education that Saberfeet provides.

So now you know more about me, and why I decided to found this company. My hope is that everyone will share what we’re doing so that baseball as a sport is a safer option for everyone, from the ground, straight up to the mound. Thanks for stopping by, please visit again because just like baseball games don’t end when the shot clock stops, Saberfeet won’t stop working until we’re satisfied that your shoes fit, and you’re ecstatic with the way that they feel.

Until next time,

Jessica Jensen

Saberfeet founder, mother, and full time baseball lover

P.S. The title of this post is a lie. I didn’t really figure anything out. I just took an idea and ran with it. People told me that I needed corporate shoe sponsorship, a medical degree, scientific proof that measuring feet reduces injuries, and an employee at a large footwear company told me that I was living in a dream world when I told him that I thought athletes should be measured and fitted for standard issue cleats, however he also agreed that it was the right thing to be doing.

I took the title of this post from Tommy John’s Twitter feed, and hopefully he’ll understand why I did that.

Saberfeet: Will we ever stop asking why?