Basketball shoes, hiking shoes, and football cleats are meant to serve a specific purpose … but when it comes to dribbling down the court, do you really need to run out and buy a new pair of basketball shoes? (“Why won’t your regular sneakers work?” you might be thinking in an internal monologue intoned like the Fresh Prince in “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”) If you’re asking a pro, a great pair of kids basketball shoes really does matter. “Quality basketball sneakers provide support specifically for lateral movement,” says Joshua Margolis, CEO and fitness consultant with Mind Over Matter Health & Fitness. “Impact is a factor as well — with the constant jumping, you really need a supportive sneaker that cushions the blow on both your knees and your back.”
What should you look for in kids basketball shoes?
But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to shoes, explains Dr. Rami Hashish, a principal at the National Biomechanics Institute. “It’s important to realize that some shoes may work great for some kids and terrible for others. So when looking for a shoe for your child, to help protect against injury, it’s important to consider their specific needs,” he says. “If your child is prone to ankle sprains, it may be wise to have a higher-top shoe, whereas if your child has pain in their Achilles, it may be better to have a shoe with a softer sole to better cushion their heel.”
Overall, he says, as shoes wear down, “their ability to protect against high forces to the foot and leg reduces, increasing the potential for injury.” That’s why Margolis emphasizes the importance of regular replacement. “The rule of thumb is that a sneaker will wear out within six months if using it on a consistent basis,” he says.
So yes — with apologies to your credit card — getting a quality pair of kids basketball shoes matter. But which ones to get? Overall, the pros say to look for breathability, flexibility, comfort, and support. “You’re going to want to find a basketball shoe that is comfortable for your child, not just whatever their favorite player is wearing,” says Top Fitness Magazine owner Jeff Parke. “Look for a shoe that is going to protect their feet while they’re playing and still be comfortable.”
For specifics, consult our roundup of expert picks for the best kids basketball shoes for function and style.
Best Kids Basketball Shoes
Parke says the key features of kids basketball shoes include ankle protection and grip. “Make sure the shoe has padding around the ankle, a thick sole with padding to help absorb the impact of landing after the jump, and a good grip to keep them from slipping on the court,” he says. For him, this Nike shoe “checks all these boxes and has a hook-and-loop strap so the kids don’t have to depend on their parents to tie their shoes.” These come in sizes for toddlers, little kids, and big kids alike. With multiple color options, there’s something for every kids’ style.
Justin Meissner, a fitness coach and movement expert, advises looking for a kids basketball shoe with a minimalist design. To that, he recommends this shoe. While support is the goal, as mentioned above, he says excessive cushioning isn’t necessary. “Too much heel cushion or giant cloud soles will remove the connection of the foot on the ground, creating poor form, increasing the risk of injury and long-term complications,” he says. This lightweight shoe is made with vegan and recycled materials throughout.
Best Big Kids’ Basketball Shoes
“For me, the best basketball shoes for kids is Nike Zoom Freak 2,” says Darryl Higgins, founder of Athlete Desk. “What’s to love about them is the fit — and you can go hard with these shoes.” They come in three different color combinations with a “Freak” swish design on the tongue and engraved in the midsole foam. A molded TPU piece on the outer front helps stabilize the foot, and the outsole rubber is designed with zones to help reduce weight and improve flexibility. A rubberized heel clip helps kids pull these on more easily.
“How good a shoe is is dependent on who wears it,” Dr. Hashish says. “But a solid shoe, known for relatively firm cushioning with solid traction is the Under Armour Curry 7. These shoes may not help you shoot like Steph, but they may help you feel a little bit more like him!” The upper has translucent layers of synthetic leather, mesh, and TPU skins for reinforcement and comfort. These come in four color combos. (Prepare to splurge.)
Best Girls’ Kids Basketball Shoes
The latest iteration of the RS-X comes in two cool color combos for grade school girls: standout yellow, and white-coral-blue multicolor. These shoes have a mesh upper with synthetic leather overlays that keep it breathable, comfortable, and durable. A lace closure makes for a snug fit.
I love the nostalgia vibes coming from these high-top Adidas indoor court shoes. The shaft goes calf-high, and there’s a rubber sole on this pair. Pick the black-and-white version with a cool logo printed on the laces or the white and lilac pair with jazzy sparkles in the stripes. These come in both little kids and big kids sizes.
Best Little Kids’ Basketball Shoes
This Under Armour pick comes in six color options for little kids and big kids. It’s got engineered perforations for ventilation so it’s super breathable, and a mesh upper with a synthetic overlay, making it extra durable and supportive. The air mesh tongue is breathable and comfortable, and a plush sock liner helps the shoe keep its shape. Bonus for parents who care (since kids don’t): anti-odor technology applied to the sock liner prevents the growth of odor-causing microbes. (Yuck.)
These lightweight fabric b-ball shoes for big kids (designed in honor of James Harden’s childhood friends) have an unusual look that will stand out on the court: A multidirectional herringbone-pattern outsole has anatomical flex grooves to boost grip, plus a hook-and-loop strap closure. Bounce cushioning adds flexibility and comfort on the court.