No matter how well you know the rules and how good your ability to make proper rulings, if you can’t run well, your officiating performance will be compromised. How your feet feel has a huge impact on whether you can run well. Every time you take a step, you put a force equivalent to one and a half times your body weight on your feet. When you run, that force increases from four to six times your body weight – and could be as much as eight times your body weight if you’re running fast. That’s a lot of force your feet must be able to absorb, and you want to be able to do so without pain, irritation or injury. So, taking care of your feet is essential to your ability to officiate.
Know what kind of feet you have
Yes, people have different kinds – or structures – of feet. Some have flat feet, some have what we call “flexible” flat feet, and some have high arches. Others have, for lack of a better term, “normal” feet. Each one of those structures has different ways of affecting how people walk, jog or run, and those differences impact one’s ability to officiate. That’s why it’s important for you to know what kind of feet you have.
Flat feet issues
Flat feet don’t have as much rigidity as arched feet, making it more difficult to get a good push-off when you start to move – especially when you must change direction abruptly, which happens often during a basketball, football or soccer game. That adversely affects your quickness. As a result, you have to compensate by anticipating that a play will happen in a particular area, or that there will be a change of direction in the action on the court or field. If you guess right, you can get where you need to go quickly. Otherwise you risk getting caught out of position.
Flexible flat feet issues
Flexible flat feet have a good arch when you don’t put any weight on them, but when you put your feet down, the arches flatten out. That puts more pressure on the plantar fascia resulting in a much higher chance of developing fasciitis – a painful condition indeed.
High arch issues
People with high arches – especially very high arches – can push off and move much more quickly than those who don’t. That’s an advantage. Think of a fast sprinter who pushes off the starting block. However, the greater the rigidity, the less able your feet are to absorb the shock they encounter when you run up and down a basketball court, for example, and that shock can be felt up the kinetic chain – from ankles, to knees, hips and the back. There’s also less flexibility which could lead to osteoarthritis, Achilles tendonitis, heel pain or heel spurs.
How to protect and support your feet, whatever their structure
It starts with the shoes, especially if you officiate basketball. Your shoes balance off your weight. Properly fitting shoes make a major difference. Improperly fitting shoes create or aggravate problems. Consider this “rule of thumb.” There should be the width of one thumb between your big toe and the end of the shoe. That will prevent jamming your toe and toenail. It’s also important to get a shoe that fits the real width of your foot. One size does not fit all. New Balance shoes, for example, come in different widths so you might want to consider them. Also, the heel height should be no more than an inch and a half. To measure, look from the side of shoe and put your index finger where the heel ends and see how far it is from the end of the shoe.
Ideally you want shoes whose soles are not worn down, so you can get a good grip on the playing surface, which will help your ability to push off and move quickly, especially if you are flat-footed.
If you have flexible flat feet, you should consider a kind of orthotic called Sporthotic, which is a customized shoe insert. These devices absorb shock but keep the arch at a certain level and redistribute weight across the foot, keeping you in a neutral position that maximizes your efficiency of movement. The right Sporthotics are also very helpful if you have high arches.
I prefer real leather shoes over the shiny artificial material that many officials think looks better. Real leather lets the shoes “breathe.” Otherwise you have a hotter, moister shoe interior which creates a higher probability of fungal infection. And, don’t forget the socks. The best socks are made of a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester to provide enough absorption and prevent excessive sweat build-up. Consider buying compression socks, too. They are excellent in helping provide support as well as reducing risk of varicose veins and other irritants. I wear them when on the court and when I know I’ll be in surgery for several hours.
Be proactive about your foot health
If you’re not feeling any pain or irritation in your feet, you probably don’t need to do anything differently. However, if you feel noticeable discomfort, you should seek a doctor’s examination – ideally by a foot specialist – to identify the cause and recommend an appropriate treatment. Be proactive and undergo a biomechanical examination to determine your potential for foot injuries and to get into an accident-preventive mode.
Fortunately, most people have “normal” feet and do not experience some of the issues described above. Keep your feet happy and healthy, and you’ll be more comfortable, quicker, faster, and hopefully injury and pain free – all of which can help you be the best sports official you can be.
Dr. Dan Davis is a long-time Connecticut high school basketball official and a well-respected podiatrist and surgeon who has successfully treated many fellow officials to keep them on the court and on the field.