For our new model of kids athletics shoes, we wanted to revisit the conventional approach to running while keeping the price affordable.The answer was the Athletics Easy: athletics shoes for kids that help develop a natural stride. So how did we do it? From the initial idea to the real-life testing phase, here's the whole story behind how we designed shoes that make running more intuitive.
The idea for these shoes came, first, from Kalenji's wish to produce a comfortable, affordable pair of shoes to introduce children to athletics; and second, from a SportsLab notion about natural stride.
SportsLab? What's that? It's our research and development lab for studying the human body in its environment. In this case, the environment is an athletics track. Maxime, a motion science research engineer, tells us about SportsLab’s interest in natural stride:
“Part of our job is to get a general feel for things. In R&D, natural stride seemed like an interesting topic. We started talking to Kalenji about its advantages and we organised a meeting with specialists on the subject.”
“What do we mean by natural stride? Natural stride is the motion that most closely resembles how you'd run if you were barefooted.” Maxime, engineer.
You see, if you run barefooted, you'll realise that you don't put your heel down first. That's even more true for children, who are just discovering the sport and haven't had time to pick up bad habits yet.
Kalenji was quick to pick up on this idea of fostering a natural stride. Carole, product manager and middle-distance runner for the last 32 years, was especially enthused by it:
“All the things Maxime was saying were things I'd felt myself, in my own body. It's perfectly true that when you get tired, you start to strike the ground heel-first. But in athletics, striking with the forefoot is something that takes a lot of practise! I can tell you, when you bring out your athletics spikes at the beginning of the season to go running on the track, you really feel your calves working! But I do realise how lucky I am to have learnt to run this way; I know it helped prevent injuries."
The challenge, therefore, was to produce a pair of shoes that would support children through their physical progress and improvement in the sport.
“Parents naturally want to protect their children as much as possible, so they tend to go for shoes with maximum cushioning - but that's not, in fact, what the children need.” Carole, product manager.
Want to find out more? We'll tell you everything about natural stride here.
Once we'd made the decision to launch shoes that fostered a natural stride, it was time to embark on our new adventure! With a whole new shoe to make, one that had to be re-invented both inside and out, and the design team set to work.
“We'd opted to design the outer shoe in parallel with the design of the inner part of the shoe.We wanted to make more room at the forefoot to allow the toes to adapt to the natural stride motion, and to play their part in finding balance. For the outer shoe design, we chose components that give a lightweight feel, such as ventilated mesh fabric.” Anaïs, engineer.
But, along with promoting natural stride, the shoe also had to be suitable for beginner athletes. With this in mind, our design team took into account not only their own observations, but also feedback from parents. So what are the strengths of this pair of shoes? Let us tell you all about it:
- Its Velcro fastening system makes it easy for children to put on and take off their shoes by themselves.
- The strap around the tongue of the shoe provides extra support: the shoes stays properly in place.
- The added reinforcement on the front, back and sides of the shoe provide increased protection and stability.
- The rubber pads on the front and back of the sole provide extra grip, especially on smooth or slippery surfaces.
So what about natural stride, then? There are 3 features that promote natural stride:
- The 0 heel-to-toe drop. The sole is no higher at the heel than at the front of the foot. The 0 drop therefore allows you to strike the ground with the mid-foot first.
- Flexibility. This makes it easier to bend the foot, thereby promoting a mid-foot strike.
- Lightweight. This gives you a more fluid and natural stride.
And finally, the Athletics Easy also facilitates the changes of direction and force that go with the sport.
Once we received the first prototypes, it was time to go on to the testing phase. The first step was to get the kids to try out the shoes in realistic conditions. So we headed to a gym with ten kids and let them loose in there to have fun and do sports to their hearts' content.
After these usage tests, which allowed us to check what level of support and grip the shoes provided (and reassert the fact that children love "shoes that go fast"), it was time to move on to durability tests! Carried out with the help of our stores and partner athletics clubs, these tests allowed us to check the life expectancy and durability of the shoes, while also checking that they don't cause any discomfort or annoyance over the long term.
We did it! After a year and a half of study, research, prototypes, trials and work, hand in hand with about fifteen people. we are proud to present you a beautiful, light, affordable shoe that encourages children do athletics in the most natural way.
Moreover, the Athletics Easy launches a whole new saga of natural stride in athletics at DECATHLON. With the "I Learn et I Move" Domyos shoes, your child can learn to walk with a drop 0 sole from the youngest age. And to take up the sport, go for the Athletics Easy!
We'll catch up with you soon, with new products that are simple, beautiful and accessible to everybody; meanwhile, let us wish you wonderful sports adventures with your family. And if your child does take up athletics, make sure you share your stories and tips with us!