What's the best volleyball shoe for you?
It depends. There are numerous variables when it comes to finding the perfect pair of volleyball shoes.
Basically, there are three main players in the sport, Mizuno, Asics and Nike. Mizuno has the edge for many reasons, not the least of which is it’s the official footwear for USA Volleyball and our national teams and, not coincidentally, the brand most easily accessible for clubs and high schools.
Asics is less prevalent but has taken a lead marketing role of late. For example, in the late-July FIVB beach event in Long Beach, Calif., televised by NBC and NBCSN, Asics was the main commercial advertiser for a competition in which they don’t even wear shoes.
Where Nike and adidas come in is mostly through the sponsorships they have with major athletic programs. Generally their deal is for all sports, although certainly the big two’s emphasis is in football and basketball. But if the football and basketball teams wear Nike at State U., you can bet the women’s volleyball team does, too.
There are exceptions, normally for medical reasons, but those logos are normally blocked or cut out of the non-sponsored shoe.
Such is the case at Minnesota, where the head women’s volleyball coach is Hugh McCutcheon. And he’s not just any coach. No, the New Zealander who played at BYU lead the USA men’s team to Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and the USA women to silver in London in 2012.
Last year, some of his players at Minnesota, keeping with Nike, chose to play in a basketball shoe. This year, he said, should be different.
“Nike has finally offered a product in the volleyball market that is specifically designed for our sport and that’s encouraging,” McCutcheon said. “The athletes quite liked them.”
Interestingly, when you go to Nike.com and click on Sports, volleyball doesn’t even come up. Instead, if you Google Nike and volleyball shoes, you can find Nike’s models that range from $85 retail for the Air Max Fusion training shoe, $90 for the Air Extreme Volley and the new $115 Nike Zoom Volley Hyperspike. The latter is the choice among Nike-sponsored women’s college volleyball teams.
“When I first started playing in here in the U.S. we wore Asics and they were OK,” McCutcheon said. “It’s a good shoe and they certainly had a good foot bed and fit well. They would get trashed a little bit easy back in the day. But today those things for Asics and Mizuno have resolved significantly. The latest Mizuno shoe is a good volleyball shoe.”
But the men’s shoe, he offered, “seems a little underweight, if you will. They seem to be designed primarily for a 16- to 22-year-old woman instead of a 28-year-old men’s national team player that’s gonna weigh 220 to 240 and jumps pretty high and has a lot of impact force when they land.”
That’s why a lot of the men’s national-team players wore Nikes in the recent past, the Kobe basketball shoe in particular.
Even last summer, some of McCutcheon’s women wore Nikes, but he said that was because of sponsorships.
“They had some endorsement deals from Nike, which tends to hit up some high-profile players in the year or two before the Olympics,” McCutcheon said, “to get their product on the international stage.”
Mizuno has four women’s models in its current lineup, starting with the basic $80 model, Wave Rally 4. The Women’s Wave Bolt 2 lists for $100, the Women’s Wave Lightning RX2 for $120 and the Women’s Wave Tornado 8 Volleyball Shoe.
For the men, there are three models, the Wave Bolt 2 for $100, the Wave Lightning RX2 for $120 and the Wave Tornado 8 for $140.
Kevin Talbot owns a sporting-goods store in Baton Rouge called Sneakers (no relation) and outfits high school and club teams throughout Louisiana. Talbot, a sporting-good veteran who has been to Nike’s Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters three times, says Mizuno is the clear winner.
“In volleyball I do mainly Asics, Nike and Mizuno and it’s 80 percent Mizuno just because of the quality of the product,” Talbot said. “I don’t have the problems I have with other two. Actually, Asics I don’t have any problems with but their shoe in general isn’t as comfortable and tends to be a little heavy.”
Asics has a longer line of volleyball shoes than most and certainly the most colorful. It also offers a most basic shoe for youngsters, called the Rocket Grade School, which lists for $55.Its higher-end men’s shoe, the stylish Gel-Volleyballcross Revolution MT, goes for $115, while the Gel-Volleycross Revolution for women lists for $110. But the top of the Asics line is the Gel-Sensei 4, offered for men and women at $130. Asics also has the colorful Gel-Domain and Gel-Flashpoint, extremely popular this year in the girls club world, for $100.
Talbot says that most volleyball people are knowledgeable about their sport.
“They’re also less marketing driven than a lot of people in other sports, like football or basketball guys. So a great commercial or marketing plan, like Nike has, doesn’t sway a volleyball person like it might a basketball person.”
Talbot thinks that if Nike ever made a deep-rooted commitment to volleyball it would pay.
“But I don’t know if they will,” Talbot said. “But if they put in the same time and investment into volleyball as they did for football and basketball, they would be scary.”
John Speraw is the busiest volleyball man on the planet. He’s the head coach at UCLA and, since last spring, also the head coach of the USA men’s team, which, of course, wears Mizuno.
“I really like the time and research that Mizuno has put in to understanding our sport,” Speraw said. “There’s a lot of science behind it and a lot of sports specificity in their volleyball shoes that is very productive for our players. I like that and they are 100 percent invested into volleyball.”
Talbot said the same thing.
“Mizuno has a commitment to volleyball,” he said. “It’s not, for lack of a better term, another branch on the tree. And a real weak and low branch. Some of these other companies are driven by football and basketball and they’re going to offer it and do a decent job and research and come up with a good product, but at the end of the day it’s not as profitable as some of their other lines.”
There’s one player not yet mentioned. Speraw was a standout player at UCLA, which is sponsored by adidas. So when he leaves the national team and goes back to college, Speraw’s players – different ones, of course, go from Mizuno to Adidas.
“Most of our guys prefer their basketball shoes because they provide a higher level of cushioning,” Speraw said. “They wear the Derrick Rose, the adiPure. They’re real light with good cushioning and my guys actually prefer those shoes.”
adidas makes basically two volleyball models, one for men and one for women, of high-end volleyball shoes, listing at $110, the Volleyball adiPower Stabil 10.1.
If you’re a big man, you might consider Nike basketball shoes. If you’re woman, from teenage club player to competitive adult, it seems that Mizuno is the way to go, especially the Wave Tornado 8. Of course, if you’re a college player, you get the shoes for free, so you take what the program gives you.
“There a lots of good shoes out there, but it really depends on personal fit and the kind of cushion that you need,” McCutcheon said.
“Mizuno and Asics are making really good volleyball shoes that are specific to our sport and adidas is certainly OK. They have a bigger market in Europe and Nike is getting into it a little more. Whether they like it or not, they’re in the volleyball market since they have all these Nike schools that they’re endorsing. So it’s good that they’re doing something specifically for volleyball.”