Performance starts at the feet. Yes, feet first! How does the most used, abused, and misunderstood segment of the body contribute to athletic performance? Let's acknowledge that their gross input on movement is astonishing. Simply because, the body's motion relies on information gathered from how and when the feet touch the ground.
When the foot factor is actually accounted for in strength and conditioning, the gains will stagger and improve many aspects of an athlete's game. For example, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning reported that 15 adult subjects improved their vertical and horizontal jumps by only strengthening their toe flexors over the 6 week study.
On the other hand if you've ever had a foot or ankle injury, you may have experienced that the feet can play a role in the re-injury. I recently helped an elite fencing athlete return to full competition (we're talking international level!) His mother contacted me because of a hamstring injury that would not heal, regardless of different therapeutic modalities and plenty of rest. We had immediate success when I identified and rectified the muscle imbalances at 2 joints in his feet. Some of his muscles were in an overuse state. In my theory of his hamstring injury reoccurrence rate, the overuse in the feet were causing the hamstrings to work overtime creating a deleterious environment for them to perform.
Fencing has unique demands on the feet and ankles, like maintaining friction on the ground so that there is stability on the offensive and defensive. Soccer players also experience a unique blend of muscle demands occurring around the feet. Did you know a soccer player only has the ball 3% of the entire game? So that means running, sprinting, and decelerating are the majority of the soccer player's movements! That leads me to the question that I receive all the time;
"The number one question that parents/athletes ask me is 'what shoes should I wear?"
Footwear is a simple, yet misguided industry. My first glimpse at this idea occurred when I had first experienced Muscle Activation Techniques for my several knee injuries and consistent muscle tightness. Despite stretching, yoga, and strength training my body was unstable and my knees were always on the verge of buckling. My MAT treatments were focused on the joints below and above my knee (feet and pelvis/hip), this showed me that we need to see the body as a kinetic energy machine rather than in a body that gets us from A to B.
I wish the soccer shoe market were sold on the idea that footwear helps our joints perform and transfer kinetic energy in the most optimal way. Instead, we are sold on footwear as protection from the outside world and all it's external forces.
Footwear should be a continuation of what the foot is capable of. We need the muscles of the foot to rotate and move us with the goal of collecting energy and releasing it. Imagine jumping on a trampoline. The woven canvas material that needs to catch and recoil the forces of our jumps does just that. It is a harmonious reaction of forces that stretch the canvas surface and rebound the energy through the springs and the jumper's body mass. The foot does this and more!
What is useful to my clients' concerns and this analogy is to identify what and who guides the athlete's kinetic energy in this scenario. The foot and its many joints are the why, they give humans the ability to store and release energy all the way up the chain of joints. On the trampoline it is the spring placement and polyproplene materials (it's not actually elastic!). A shoe that is too tight, constricting the joints of the foot (too much arch support, squeezing the toes, or too tight in general) would be the equivalent of jumping at any height and landing on a solid, hard, maybe even cement ground.
The very least you can do is have an appropriate fit through the toes. I will also have suggestions for helping the feet to be less abused and overused, footwear choices, tips on understanding inserts, and strengthening the foot overall.