When is a Tennis Court Not a Tennis Court
By Kevin Morgan
After a low point in participation in the mid to late 1990s, when a famous 1994 Sports Illustrated cover proclaimed "Is Tennis Dead?", tennis participation has increased 8.3 percent since 1998, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) 2005 Sports Participation Report. Still, depending on where you live, it's often possible to find local tennis courts that sit idle a majority of the time.
Today most public and private indoor recreation facilities use the word "multi-sport" somewhere in their description. To get the most out of a facility they offer a number of different activities that appeal to a wide variety of people. Is it possible to bring that same strategy outdoors to the tennis court?
Conveniently the overall dimensions of an outdoor tennis court, typically 60 feet by 120 feet, make a number of other sport activities possible, including basketball, volleyball, skateboarding and inline hockey. Another sport that is beginning to emerge here in the United States that lends itself to outdoor tennis courts is futsal. The game futsal is sometimes called Short Soccer or Five-A-Side. The game is played on tennis or basketball-size courts, both indoors and out, without the use of sidewalls. The main attractions of futsal, over traditional soccer, is its emphasis on ball control and the fact that it can be played on less space with fewer players in a shorter time period.
Using tennis courts for other sports is being seen more and more internationally. The Trinity College Tennis Club in Dublin, Ireland, made its number one and two outdoor tennis courts available exclusively for tennis, while its number three court is only available for futsal. The Bayview Beach Resort in Penang recently converted its two tennis courts to multipurpose courts for futsal, volleyball and sepak-takraw (a combination soccer/volleyball sport). Here in the United States, King Futsal recently converted three tennis courts at the Hollywood Sports Park in Bellflower, Calif., into a dedicated futsal facility that has more than 200 youth and adult teams playing.
One of the most important considerations in reviewing the role of the tennis court(s) at a park or facility is the current court usage rate for tennis as well as any emerging sport or demographic trends in the area that would provide additional opportunities for using the current courts at that park or recreation facility. Some information, such as sport participation trends, can be obtained via secondary research. The SGMA Sports Participation Report cited earlier can be found at www.sgma.com. Additional primary research in the form of surveys often is warranted to find out what sports participation wants, needs and desires exist among your customers, constituents and community at large and how that may be applied to current outdoor tennis courts.
Once a decision is made regarding the viability of converting or combining the sports being played on existing outdoor tennis courts, the next step is to address the ideal surface for the intended use. Most outdoor tennis courts are a hard surface composed of concrete, asphalt or acrylic, with acrylic normally forming only the uppermost few millimeters of a court. While the hard surface of an existing tennis court is an option for other sports, the surface may be in need of repair or just may need an alternative surface that provides additional benefits. For example, skateboarding on a hard tennis court surface can damage the court if it has an acrylic coating. One option is a modular surface that retrofits over an existing hard-court surface. The new generation of outdoor, modular surfaces quickly can transform deteriorated tennis courts and damaged concrete into a fast playing surface that's easier on the body than a traditional hard-court surface. Modular playing surfaces are engineered for quick water drainage and easy maintenance to maximize court usage. They also offer superior shock-absorption for running and jumping as well as true and consistent ball bounces. In addition, for special events, promotions and summer camps, temporary lines can be taped on a modular court surface to accommodate a variety of activities.
Keep in mind that tennis purists can be a vocal crowd when it comes to altering the surface they play on. Many have never experienced playing tennis on anything but a hard-court surface. The good news is that the latest modular surface products are great for racquet sports, with a near identical ball bounce as concrete. Many modular surfaces are even rated as a "Fast" surface (Category 3) by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). For more information on ITF classified court surfaces, visit www.itftennis.com/technical.
In summary, after you complete an audit of your facility's outdoor tennis court usage, you may find that they are being fully used in their current setup for tennis only. Or you may find the current usage rate warrants designating one or more tennis courts for other sports and recreation activities. As you move forward with your strategy to maximize your outdoor court usage, consider the current surface condition and what alternative surfaces may provide the best combination of performance, safety and maintenance.
So, when is a tennis court not a tennis court?
When it is transformed into a multi-game court area.