Feature Article - July/August 2006
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Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Something's Afoot

By Kara Spak

Think back to the last time you shopped for athletic shoes.

You're standing in the store, the cold, harsh glare of a fluorescent light beaming down on you from above. Salespeople bustle back and forth. Plastic towers of shoes face you. Dozens and dozens of shoes, all shapes, sizes, colors and purpose, are ripe for the picking.

Did you need shoes for running on a treadmill? Sprinting on a track? Hiking on a mountain trail? Power walking? Biking with clip-on pedals or without? Would you be playing tennis in your new shoes, or doing aerobics?

Picking the right shoes, after all, is not about what looks good. It's about performance enhancement, and it's about safety.

Once you decide which column of brand new display shoes you're going to focus on at the athletic store, you've got a host of new decisions that may not be any easier.

What brands of shoes fit best for you? What color? What style? What price point?

With dozens of brands on the markets in a wide array of styles that offer specialty features for any sport out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. And that's just for your feet.

Imagine now you're selecting something else that is going to be run on, played on, jumped on or worked-out on.

Performance and safety are also critical elements here.

Color and style are almost as important.

But instead of spending $90 on a pair of shoes that only you have to live with, you are planning a new sports surface for hundreds of athletes and patrons that likely will cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Overwhelmed? Don't be. A little research and a lot of thoughtful planning can go a long way to making that sports surface—be it a tennis court, track, indoor or outdoor field, weight room, playground or whatever venue you can think of—a real asset to your community.

Sally Cottingham, president of a sports flooring company in Chicago, says the first step you need to take is figuring out what will be taking place on the new surface.

"Will you be weight-training? Will it be multipurpose?" Cottingham asks. "You have to pick the surface based on what sport will be happening there."

A common answer is multipurpose, Cottingham says. After all, you want to maximize the use of your new investment. But don't stop there—the next step is narrowing down the meaning of that word.

"Is it going to be used 85 percent of the time for basketball? For tennis?" she asks. "The owner needs to know, really needs to give a good idea of how it is going to be used."

Cottingham knows floors, and not just as president of a sports flooring company, an industry she has worked in for 19 years. As a college tennis player, she played on a variety of surfaces.

"I never even thought about it," she says of the sports surfaces she played on during her days as a collegiate-level athlete.

These days, though, it's something she thinks about all the time, working with clients like the University of Chicago on the sports surfaces at the school's field house.

Flooring always has been important, but as even amateur sports become more competitive, floor performance and design have become even more crucial elements.