Supplement Feature - September 2008
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Choices in Indoor Sports Surfaces

By Sue Marquette Poremba


"The different surfaces available for indoor facilities are numerous," said Robin Traum, a spokesperson for a flooring company. "For every type of activity, you can find one or more specialized flooring solutions on the market."

There are a number of different synthetic options, for example, and even wood flooring requires a choice. Maple flooring is probably the most widely specified wood floor for sports use, but there are other wood floor products available.

The biggest difficulty in choosing a floor, however, comes from the fact that it is rarely used for just one purpose, as Devarez has seen.

"Locker rooms may be the exception to that rule," Traum said, "but even equipping them means considering a wide array of flooring types: resilient sheet vinyl, rubber, plastic and inter-locking tile, poured epoxy, concrete, ceramic, marble and slate tile, and carpeting. You need to compare their characteristics in terms of safety for secure walking and prevention of bacteria growth, cost, upkeep, comfort, appearance and longevity."

Traum suggested using the following points to help determine which type of surface is best for your facility:

  • Planned activities
  • Expected frequency and duration of the programs
  • Age and skill level of participating members
  • Necessary equipment or accessories
  • Durability and maintenance expectations

"The best plan involves writing down all your expectations and then seriously considering whether the list is realistic," Traum said. "Then you must prioritize in terms of time or importance to your center. The programming that winds up with the most scheduling frequency and receiving the highest number of hours determines what type of flooring you should research."

In addition to multiple uses for a single surface, most sports facilities are multi-functional in that there are different rooms for different types of activities. While an elementary school may want to resurface the floor of a room that is used for physical education classes, school assemblies and community activities, the local YMCA will be looking at flooring for a basketball court, a weight room, an aerobics room and maybe a pool deck.

"The exact same type of floor will not work in every room in a fitness facility, but similar surfaces can be used," Traum said. "Group exercise or aerobics rooms with members sitting or stretching draw more participants if they feel the floor's cushioning and shock absorption. That same amount of thickness is not necessary for weight rooms or cycling studios. They need floors that can bear the weight of heavy equipment. Locker rooms require floors that can be walked on barefoot and minimize the chance of slipping. Even though the thickness of these floors and some of their characteristics can vary, their surface layer can be the same material. The floors can look different with wood grains, single sheets, textures, tiles and different solid colors, patterns and the addition of game lines and logos."

One type of surface that has gone out of style, however, is carpeting. While it allows for multiple functions, it is difficult to keep clean and doesn't lend itself to good athletic performance. The fabric of the carpet doesn't allow for easy movements. Students in a kickboxing class, for example, may try to pivot on a kick move, only to find that their sneakers stick and their ankles twist.

Synthetic rubber products, on the other hand, are becoming increasing popular, said Tom Mitchell, spokesman for a manufacturer of floor systems.

"There are two kinds," he said. "There are the traditional sheet goods or roll goods that are made totally in a factory, shipped to the site and glued down. The other type is a seamless floor, which is assembled on-site. The ingredients are shipped to the job site and the crew assembles them."

The biggest difference between the two types of floors is the seams, or lack thereof. Seamless floors have a nice aesthetic quality and avoid the problem of the seams separating or dirt getting between the seams.