Follow the Bouncing Ball

Indoor Sports Flooring

“That’s the way the ball bounces,” or so the saying goes. But that old adage takes on a more literal meaning for those in the business of indoor sports flooring, and for those who oversee facilities that use this kind of surfacing. From wooden floors to various synthetic options, basketball courts to weight rooms, there are many options out there and many considerations, depending on what types of activities are taking place in a given venue.

“Wood is still the gold standard for most competition basketball gym floors,” said Courtney Spicer, business unit leader and director of sales for a Gurnee, Ill.-based dealer of sports surfacing. “Wood floors with the right subfloors feature area elasticity properties and offer the best performance characteristics for basketball.” He added that with today’s design capabilities and stain options, these floors are more attractive than ever and allow for greater brand awareness.

Spicer’s company offers three grades of maple flooring. Each grade offers the same structural integrity, but the lower grades exhibit more natural variations in the wood. The highest standard is MFMA-grade maple. Founded in 1897, the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association publishes grade standards, guide specifications, installation best practices, floor care recommendations, and specifications for athletic flooring sealers and finishes.

There are fixed subfloor systems, floating subfloor systems and portable wood systems to consider. “Portable floors are often used in facilities that host a major event occasionally, but the purpose of the facility at large may require other flooring more often. The portable floor is then assembled and used for the appropriate event and/or remains set up for the season,” said Spicer.

Basketball Court
Photo Courtesy of Sport Court

Wood floors are found at top-level competition venues but also in school gymnasiums. “Depending on the goals of rec centers, wood can often be found, but many have synthetic options as well,” said Spicer, who explained that the best synthetic floors will provide good shock absorption, energy return and coefficient of friction for sports while providing high durability for many events, making them a better solution for most multipurpose applications. “They are much easier to maintain and typically don’t require covering for events outside of athletics. You see a lot of multipurpose floors in local rec centers and the K-12 market, as they strive to accommodate as many activities as they can to encourage public usage.”

Stephanie Corrigan is director of brand and product marketing for a sports flooring firm headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, which manufactures modular synthetic flooring. They offer a line that mimics hardwood flooring and “delivers the same look, squeak of the shoe and consistent ball bounce as a hardwood.” Furthermore, she described a feature “which allows the floor to absorb energy across the floor as players start, stop and change directions. (The) gym floors are very easy to clean and maintain with a daily dry mop and a monthly wet mop using a neutral cleaner. No annual maintenance is required.”

Other systems they offer also feature a high-impact polypropylene surface and can easily be customized with team logos and colors. Corrigan said their floors are installed in community centers, schools, training facilities and recreation halls across the country. “Our gym floors are just like having a wood floor at a fraction of the cost. Due to the nature of our modular sports systems, (our) surfaces are great options for renovation to cover old floors.”

The floor systems come with an optional underlayment, which Corrigan said is a great way to customize the gym floor based on the venue’s needs. “Whether used for multipurpose activities, basketball, volleyball, recreational play or intense training, each option meets strict ASTM F2772 shock absorption standards for indoor sports flooring,” and features their system for “enhanced athlete comfort and safety.” She said the most common underlayment is 2mm, “very typical in a community center or elementary school gym. However, a volleyball training facility may want an even higher level of shock absorption and may choose to go with a thicker underlayment.”

John Gleason is general manager of a Utica, N.Y.-based manufacturer of modular sports flooring, and he explained that while their tiles offer some cushion on their own, the underlayment provides the most comfort and reduces leg stress. “We use a standard 3mm rubber underlayment for most indoor applications, but for those looking for additional comfort, we can either provide something thicker or add a second layer of this underlayment.”

According to Gleason, all their indoor flooring options are multipurpose. And in addition to often being a lower-cost option, he said another advantage is that their products can generally be installed where traditional flooring options might not be the best solution, such as in areas with moisture issues. One option they offer comes in a plank shape rather than traditional squares, allowing “for the tiles to be staggered during the installation process to cleanly achieve the traditional hardwood floor look.” The plank series also includes a vinyl insert to “achieve the hardwood maple color and look; this insert provides some additional built-in cushion as well.”

Aside from the plank series, Gleason’s company offers other tiles that are utilized in multipurpose gyms. “We have customers that use this tile to cover ice rinks in the off season for additional programming that includes basketball, roller hockey, volleyball, roller derby, box lacrosse and more.” He said design options are limitless with 20 standard colors. “We can customize game lines for either surface and logos can also be added. Every customer can work closely with our team and come up with a practical design that is suitable for their facility.”

Basketball Court
Photo Courtesy of Mateflex

So how does the ball bounce on these synthetic surfaces? Gleason explained that ball rebound is tested in accordance with ASTM F2117, which requires a ball to bounce 90% or more on the surface when compared to the same bounce on concrete. “It must be tested in several locations and each test cannot vary more than 3% from the average. All of our products average in the high 90% range, making the bounces very similar to that of concrete.”

Gleason said their plank series tiles also work well in aerobics and group fitness areas. “It will give the look of a hardwood floor with a low-maintenance, modular vinyl tile that is easy to install.” Another asset is portability. “It’s very common for these facilities to rent space, and having the ability to pick up and move it with them should the need arise is a big advantage.”

Another advantage of a modular tile system is the ability to easily remove and replace damaged tiles, or access the subsurface. When it comes to cleaning the surfaces, Gleason said that first off, it’s very helpful to reduce the amount of dirt and debris introduced to the surface, and walk-off mats can be a good first line of defense. Another solution is to not allow street shoes on the surface, especially in winter. “We recommend keeping the surface clear of debris with frequent dust mopping. You can also damp mop the surface as needed with a neutral floor cleaner making sure it is properly diluted.” Some cleaning products can cause adverse effects on the surface, so it’s best to test a new solution in an inconspicuous area.

Another type of “surface” used in certain sports is the padded mat. Jenn DeArmitt is president of a Northumberland, Penn.-based manufacturer of protective mats and padding for wrestling, gymnastics, cheerleading, tumbling, martial arts, tactical training, health clubs and more. She told us that they’ve been the official mat provider of the NCAA Wrestling Championships since 1963. “Classic mats are not permanent applications and do not need to be affixed to the flooring.” There are 16 color options, different thicknesses and section sizes and various design layouts for training and/or competition.

The classic mats are a double-sided system, providing extended life. “Double-sided means that both the top and bottom of the mats are designed for use. Many schools choose to put practice circles on one side and competition markings on the other side to, essentially, double the life of the mat.”

Another way to extend the life of the mats is by reconditioning, according to DeArmitt. “Following a full evaluation, we will clean and repair any imperfections, gouges, cuts or tears to the mat and seams. We then trim the edges and re-square the mat, removing as little material as possible. Finally, we apply a fresh vinyl coating to the edges and both sides of the mat. This is a very popular option that our customers take advantage of.”

There is also a lightweight mat option, where only the top side can be used, and DeArmitt said these are a popular option for middle school and high school programs that do not have a designated wrestling space. These sections can be connected using a patented zip option, offering an interlocking connection system for a tape-free mat. “It also allows for quick setup and produces a resilient and long-lasting seal. They are easy to move and store. We offer exclusive DigiPrint technology on (these) mats that can be used as a recruiting tool for different programs.” She added that these mats can also be used for wall padding, and many customers sell sponsorship logos on the mats and padding to raise funds.

The wrestling mats also meet or exceed the ASTM impact standard, according to DeArmitt. “We take pride in putting impact protection and athlete safety at the forefront and, based on our core values, we do not believe it is in our customers’ best interest to have a mat that does not meet this standard, whether training in a wrestling room, a gym or at home.”

She said they also provide a care-and-handling brochure with each mat they manufacture that highlights specific ways and products to clean, disinfect or repair the mat.

DeArmitt said their wrestling mat systems are also used in health clubs, fitness centers and multipurpose gyms. They also offer folding fitness mats for workouts, yoga and aerobics. And there’s a carpeted foam flooring that works well with obstacle courses or climbing gyms. For weight rooms, there’s heavy-duty rolled flooring that glues down or puzzle tiles made from recycled rubber.

In fact, while many of the various types of modular synthetic flooring work well in fitness areas, they may not be suitable for the rigors of weight room use, where weights may be dropped on the surface. For these applications, Spicer said they “strongly encourage vulcanized rubber products for their durability, low maintenance, aesthetics and overall cleanliness. We believe customers should set a budget for a premium weight room floor that can be used for many years because moving equipment and downtime in rec centers can be difficult and costly.”

Indoor Sports Facility
Photo Courtesy of Kiefer USA

Located in Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University is an NCAA Division I school with a storied sports program, and many of the teams compete at University Arena in Read Fieldhouse, where they installed a new wood floor in 2015, according to Assistant Athletic Director of Facilities Matt Kulik. “It’s been great; we’ve not had any floor-related issues since it’s been installed. Which is pretty remarkable considering we play basketball, volleyball and gymnastics and have also hosted concerts and other events in there.”

He said the previous wood floor had reached the end of its useable life. “It was 20 years old, and we were having problems with boards breaking and splintering.”

Kulik said their custodial department does a great job of cleaning the floor on a daily basis. “Also, we do a light rough-up and resurface every summer. This gives us a fresh coat of finish every year and also helps build up the floor’s durability.” And if boundary lines are painted for basketball, which is typical, what happens when, say, volleyball teams play? “For volleyball, we have tape lines we use. We change them out on a regular basis to make sure they don’t stick to the floor too long.”

A five-lane track runs around the basketball court and office area in the fieldhouse for track and field events, according to Kulik. “The track is a rubber surface, and it’s very porous, which leads to issues in the winter with trying to clean it on a regular basis with all the salt and snow residue. This requires a different cleaning machine than what is used on the basketball court. When we host gymnastics meets, we have carpet squares that we put down on the basketball court that not only protect the surface but it also looks a lot better.”

In a separate gymnastics training area, there’s “a spring floor for floor exercises, and that’s just a spring-based floor system that sits on concrete. There’s also a large foam pit that the gymnasts can practice their routines into without worrying about getting hurt,” said Kulik.

Most of the weight rooms around WMU have rubber-padded flooring, as “it works better in absorbing the impact of weight being dropped,” said Kulik. “It’s important to find a product that’s very durable, but it’s also something that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis.”

The weight room for football training was designed to have a 40-yard by 15-yard strip of artificial turf included in the design. “This was to allow the players a spot to do agility and stretching drills. This turf is very short and does not have any infill, so it makes cleanup of the space a lot easier.” In the indoor hockey arena, “all the areas adjacent to the ice have rubber flooring so as not to damage the players’ skates, and to also minimize the amount of dust and dirt that the players come in contact with, as it will affect the sharpness of their skates.”

The Donald Seelye Center at WMU is used by the football program, men’s and women’s soccer, baseball, softball, golf and track throwers for practice. A field turf system with rubber base infill was installed in 2013, according to Kulik. “We do regular maintenance, which includes grooming and decompacting the turf surface. January through March that building is used almost 20 hours a day, so staying on top of maintenance is important to maintain the longevity of the turf surface.”

Spicer’s company offers indoor turf, which he said can vary greatly depending on usage. “Infilled turf is used in larger-scale indoor facilities where sports are being played. However, we also install a lot of non-infilled turf for training and fitness.”

Many indoor sports surfaces are ideal for use with a variety of activities, while some are more targeted. For example, wood surfaces for basketball and volleyball tend to be the same or very similar systems, according to Spicer. And while synthetic floors for these sports can also be the same, he pointed out that “synthetic flooring for volleyball will require a surface that tends to allow for slide coefficient while maintaining good shoe-to-surface interaction.”

For tennis it depends on how the facility is used; are they dedicated indoor tennis and pickleball courts or are they also used for other sports? “There are ‘tennis surfaces’ that do a fair job but are really more multipurpose floors, while we have premium tennis surfaces that are professional-quality but may not be as desirable for other sports.

“Most ice cream parlors have different flavors as not everyone wants the same scoop,” Spicer continued. “The key to surfacing properly is communication and finding the right surfaces—type, texture, durability, performance—to accommodate the needs and goals of the facility. Some surfaces cross over while others are more suited for one or two specific sports.”      RM