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January 30, 2016

Let Your Dawgs Do the Work

Let Your Dawgs Do the Work

SIMPLE SATURDAY – It’s the thick of hoops season and sometimes the best thing to do is to keep it short, simple and safe. The best coaches cut down practice time to keep players legs in hopes they can end on an upswing. Another great practice is to get basketball players out of his or her shoes. Do 10-20 minutes of ball-handling or shooting drills barefoot or in a team meeting. End practice with a few basic yoga moves.

Foot injuries ended my career. The same was true for my cousin Pete, who played in the NFL for 12 years, same for Larry Bird and Bill Walton, and my sister Meg, who I am sure appreciates being in the same sentence as all of the above.

Here’s what they don’t tell you about those expensive basketball shoes that make you look and feel so cool: the shoes end up doing too much of the work. Over time, your feet do less of the work, and become weaker and less stable. And if there are any problems in the feet – they problems are going to ripple up.

I’ve had four surgeries on my feet – two cuts of my plantar fascia, two ankles reconstructed (and a tendon baseball stitched back together). The worst thing I think I did was wear hard plastic orthotics starting at age 14. I rarely took off my basketball shoes in high school and I never changed my orthotics – not even as my body grew and changed as a college athlete. I didn’t know any better, and it appears as though no trainers or doctors did either until I had to have the arches of my feet cut.

Years later when I was trying out for a team in Israel, the team doctor looked at my dawgs and said, “Your feet are a mess.”

I said they hurt a little. She said, “This is not good.”

Then within weeks they hurt worse than just about every injury I’ve had. Chronic pain for almost two years and every day I tried to work through it. The fascia attached to the ball of my foot and the heel of my foot was tearing repeatedly. It felt so bad that I hoped it would completely rupture, but it did not. After several months of playing and cutting and jumping, hoping my arches would rupture, I had to have both of my arches cut.

The mistake was all the years of being in too much of a shoe (and orthotic) because in doing so, I weakened my feet, ligaments, tendons and fascia. When your feet are a total mess and they have no muscles or support around what is killing you, you’re done or it’s at least the beginning of the end (ask Bird, Walton, Pete and Meghan). You’re mid-season, you are in chronic pain and they do anything and everything (cortisone shots, more orthotics, ice) to get you on the floor.

The best thing I ever did was read about bare-foot training two decades after my pounding days were over. I read about how the best runners in the world often came from families that could not afford shoes so they ran in their bare feet. Just before this revelation, I met a guy who said he had plantar fasciitis and his doctor told him to walk around barefoot for six months, so he did, and it went away. I basically did the same thing. Now I have no foot pain.

During the height of my pain, it would have been unthinkable to stop for six months and walk around in my bare feet as much as possible. But now – it can be done, and we can certainly pass it along to the kids who are pounding and not realizing how much damage they may be causing by allowing for too much support.