With the possible exception of track and field, there isn’t another sport as spartan as wrestling when it comes to individual gear. Compared to competitions that require helmets and bats and sticks and skates and shin guards, wrestling requires only headgear, a singlet, a mouthguard and shoes. The most important piece of that puzzle in terms of athletic performance, the one piece that directly affects the outcome of a match, is a pair of wrestling shoes. Here’s what most beginners and their parents ask when looking for this vital piece of equipment.
This is the first question most people ask. Like shoes for any other sport, wrestling shoes fall on a vast price spectrum. You can get perfectly serviceable wrestling shoes for $45 or pay nearly $200 for a top-of-the-line pair. The perception is that the more expensive the shoes, the better they are. To an extent that’s true. But better for whom? That the question you should ask. The more expensive styles generally carry the latest advancements and materials, and cater to the more advanced wrestler’s abilities.
If you’re a beginner, welcome to one of the coolest individual sports in the world. If you, your son or your daughter are interested in getting on the mat, consider starting with a more cost effective pair of shoes and as you or your child advances in the sport, look into a pair for more advanced wrestlers.
DID YOU SAY DAUGHTER?
Of course. Women’s and girls’ wrestling programs at the high school and collegiate level are growing both in number and popularity. Even in cases where female-only programs don’t exist, many schools offer it as a co-ed sport. It’s now an Olympic competition. That said, manufacturers don’t really differentiate between the male and female wrestler’s foot, so while you may be able to find some shoes that are traditionally feminine in color, there’s no functional difference between those and shoes featuring traditionally male color schemes.
SHOULD I MATCH MY SCHOOL COLORS?
Sure, if you want. It doesn’t matter as long as they fit. You’ve likely heard the old maxim: “looks don’t matter. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Same goes for wrestling shoes.
WHAT’S THE BEST BRAND?
The one that fits. A particular brand or style might be popular right now, but next season, that popular brand or style could change. Your best bet is to try all the brands and styles available in your price range and pick the one that feels best. If you hear great things about a shoe, try it on. If it feels good, wear it. If not, try another style.
SO WHAT DO I LOOK FOR IN A WRESTLING SHOE?
Wrestling shoes have a few key qualities that you should look for: Lightweight, flexibility, sole grip and ankle support. These qualities generally improve the higher up the price scale you go, but again, as beginners, you shouldn’t be concerned with getting the best shoes ever; you should be concerned with getting the best shoes for yourself at your current skill level. There are many quality shoes with modest price points that are built to be both durable and effective as a wrestler grows from beginner to intermediate levels.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SPLIT SOLE AND A UNISOLE?
We’re glad you asked. Look at the bottom of the shoe. If there is one continuous sole heel-to-toe, that’s a unisole. If there are two distinct sole pieces — one at the front and one at the heel — that’s a split sole. Unisoles generally provide greater grip while the split sole is generally more flexible. This is kind of a big deal because wrestlers invariably prefer one over the other. Best advice, though, is to go with the one that feels best when you try them on and test them out a bit. If you find your choice doesn’t live up to expectations, try the other style the next time you buy shoes.
HOW SHOULD WRESTLING SHOES FIT?
This depends on personal preference as well, but many elite-level wrestlers prefer a snug fit. However, if your feet are still growing, leaving a bit of growing room is a good idea. When you’re trying on wrestling shoes, keep in mind brand-size recommendations. For example, Asics and adidas recommend trying on a shoe one-half size larger than your street shoe while Nike recommends going a full size larger.
HOW MANY PAIRS DO I NEED?
As a beginner, one. As you advance in the sport, you may choose to keep two pairs, one for practice and one for competition.
Finally, we cannot overemphasize the importance of finding the right pair of wrestling shoes for your level of experience. The right shoe will be the one you put on and forget about so you can work on developing your skills and pinning your competition. So take some care with your choice at the beginning, and good luck on the mat.