Feature Article - July/August 2004
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Special Supplement:
Recreation Management’s Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Fear of floors foiled

Before you floor, you must realize your surfaces must perform one job above all others—protect the bodies of the people who play on them and, if possible, give their performance a boost.

Better floors help athletes of all levels play better and feel better, as those who have upgraded their floors often attest. But deciphering the jargon of biomechanics—how floors accomplish that—can intimidate floor neophytes.

For example: "Vulcanized rubber sheet good consisting of a dual durometer, polymeric bound recycled rubber underlayment mat with a colored EDPM granule top wearing course…two-stage pad design, responsive to light and aggressive loads, quick response contact point and unmatched resilient load performance…" Huh? Understanding a few key terms can take you far. (See the sidebar on page 10.)

Associating the definitions with how you play a game or use a surface can help as well.

"By having floors with resilience, you can increase the health of the athlete," Mayo says. "The most common injury on hard wood surfaces is shin splints. If you have resiliency, that virtually disappears."

At Junction City High School in Junction City, Kan., for example, the school facility directors and athletes "were in awe of the floor" after they installed a resilient floor system, replacing an old sheet goods synthetic system.

"They were just amazed at how much better things were, how it gave, and how people felt, especially the adults," Mayo says. Complaints about injuries and soreness reduced dramatically.

Flooring systems that pay special attention to athlete comfort shouldn't be limited to Division I college facilities and their high-flying athletes, says TMP's Bean. Many community centers host as lengthy and intense a level of play as busy college facilities, she adds, and the older, less conditioned people who play there may need a high-performance floor more than younger athletes with healthier joints.

Biomechanicals can be broken down to a few key areas that all require some give-and-take, Mayo says, whose expertise on floors comes from the many hats he wears: architecture professor, architectural firm principal and member of the architects' advisory commission of the Maple Floor Manufacturers' Association.

According to Mayo, facility planners can get confused if they try to cram in too much information. He recommends they can simplify the process by focusing on a few key issues, then making it their mission to follow along and understand them. He recommends paying the most attention to these Big Three for gym floors: shock absorption (also known as force reduction), ball rebound and area of deflection. This tells how well a floor can absorb the impact of an athlete at play and how much of that force the athlete is exposed to in return as well as how much a ball will bounce back and how much a floor will indent, or "give," under weight and how far that indentation will spread.

Other areas, such as coefficient of friction, which measures sliding performance, are secondary, Mayo says.

"With the friction, you want enough to slow an athlete down, but not too much, so they come to a dead stop," he says. "It's important, but it's not the overriding issue. Plus, that coefficient of friction—that sliding ability—is going to change over time after you put it down."

Facility pros should rely on manufacturer suggestions for coating systems, he suggests, to get the sliding performance they want.