Feature Article - May/June 2003
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Tread Lightly

A complete guide to selecting the right sports surface

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Colors of all Stripes
Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota

It's a rainbow of color in the surfacing world. Color can boost a facility's identity, give it a sense of "branding," and reinforce team spirit. But when choosing colors, beware the laws of unintended consequences.

Depending on the lighting systems used, brighter colors can increase glare, notes Moose Sports' Sally Cottingham, and some colors show dirt more than others, especially yellow.

Color can also affect the visibility of sports striping. Ask manufacturers for samples to see how contrasts hold up with stripes.

Speaking of stripes, they should be determined during the planning stages when you hash out how your facility will be used because it's far more difficult to add stripes after the fact. Many synthetic surfaces do not hold paint well, and striping tape's durability can vary according to the surface where it's applied, the frequency of the floor's use and even the age of its users.

"I can't tell you how many times I've watched a group of kindergartners pick the tape off a floor," Scott Knackstedt says wryly.

Left: Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Saugus, Mass. Right: Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif.

Color has even found its way to tradition-bound tennis, as colors beyond green become more prevalent. The TPA, or Tennis Professionals Association, which hosts men's professional events, has begun promoting purple courts, such as those found at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif. Purple courts give greater visibility to the ball and provide greater drama and contrast for television broadcasts, notes Art Tucker, a tennis-surfacing firm executive. And at the University of Minnesota's new tennis facility, players compete atop acrylic-finish indoor and outdoor courts colored in the Golden Gophers' maroon and gold.

Track where it's at

Indoors and out, synthetics have become the surface of choice for track and field, and with the growth of field houses' popularity, have become more prevalent.

For field houses and indoor tracks, the surface choices and installation method are the virtually same as for multipurpose areas, although the installation, levels of surface friction and cushioning vary. Field-house systems may be more inclined to use latex surfaces, since the area inside the track often gets used for indoor tennis. For example, York Community High School will feature either a high-performance poured in place or sheet goods rubberized mat system over a concrete subsurface. These synthetic systems can last from 10 to 20 years, depending on the level of maintenance.

A Facility Full of Flooring Decisions

Gary Miller has been thinking about sport surfaces a lot lately. As University of Illinois' assistant athletic director for operations, Miller is overseeing planning for the massive expansion of the campus's Intramural Physical Education Facility (IMPE), which will almost double in size from 260,000 to 440,000 square feet when construction begins in July. Originally opened in 1970, the facility in Champaign, Ill., will include almost every sport surface available to offer a full spectrum of recreational and intramural opportunities for its million-plus visitors a year. (That number is expected to triple with the expansion. )

For the new IMPE, Miller has selected anchored hardwood floors, with grade-two or -three wood, for all of its gymnasium and multipurpose sport areas. Group exercise/aerobics rooms also feature wood floors, albeit with greater resiliency in their installation systems. Wood reflects a level of prestige that U of I students, many of whom come from affluent Chicago suburbs, have come to expect in exercise facilities.

In cardiovascular-equipment areas, IMPE will feature carpeting. Miller admits this represented a tradeoff in appearance vs. maintenance and durability, estimating a three- to five-year replacement schedule for it.

Free-weight areas will have rubberized sheet goods, with mats covering some areas, he says, a change from the rubber tiles in the current, unrenovated facility.

Pool and locker-room wet areas will use ceramic tile, with carpeting in the locker pods, again reflecting the more club-like atmosphere the university plans to convey.

The new IMPE facility is a perfect example of all kinds of flooring options for all kinds of needs.

Left: West Branch Athletic Club in West Branch, Mich.
Right: New York Health and Racquet Club

Standard of Care?

In addition to the chemistry of synthetics terms and the physics of wood, floor buyers must learn the alphabet soup of certifications. Currently, there is no one, unified standards system that covers all aspects of performance, installation and design for sports surfaces, but a number of organizations cover portions of these issues. They include:

DIN Deutsches Institut fur Normug eV.—German industrial standards that are the most widely used for sports surfaces. They specify performance standards and monitor quality but do not specify design codes.

ASTM American Society for Testing Materials—These standards show a product has passed guidelines for various characteristics, such as abrasion resistance, indentation, coefficient of friction and fire resistance. ASTM standards tend to appear most frequently in marketing artificial turf.

IAAF International Association of Athletic Federations—This track-and-field organization launched a certification system for track surfaces in 1999. To obtain the highest level of certification, samples of the actual, installed surface must be sent for testing.

FIFA The International Soccer Federation's Quality Concept sets quality goals for soccer equipment and licenses manufacturers that adhere to artificial-turf criteria.


ISO International Organization for Standardization—Like the ASTM, the ISO outlines manufacturing and quality requirements for a variety of flooring surfaces. Many products note they meet ISO 9000 or 9001 standards.

Without an alternative, DIN remains the gold standard for flooring, but many in the field would like to see a North American system that includes design parameters and human performance test results.

Cannon/Johnston's Bob Johnston says he believes that the push to standardize surface testing standards, per se, will come from the sports-surfacing industry itself rather than the design community, in order to provide a competitive edge and separate themselves from their competitors. He notes some professionals in sports sciences, such as those at the University of Calgary, discount the importance of standards, since their research has shown that standardized tests have limited success in predicting a surface's biomechanical properties.

Many good floors do not specifically comply with DIN, adds BSA's Ross, saying that while it makes a good guideline, DIN standards don't provide a true measure of performance.