Supplement Feature - September 2014
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The Big Bounce

Innovations in Sports Flooring Abound

By Rick Dandes


Options Abound

Sports flooring can be made from a variety of natural and synthetic materials. When choosing a sports surface, the options can at times seem overwhelming. Depending on how it responds to an athlete, said Jeff Williams, director of sports for a Peshtigo, Wis., manufacturer, a sports floor can be classified based on its elasticity.

The most common types of elasticity are area-elastic or point-elastic. The key difference here is seen in the relative area of deflection, when a downward force is applied to the surface. As an example, when a basketball player runs across a court, each step creates energy as it lands. That energy has to be dispersed in some way across the floor. An area-elastic floor disperses energy over a wide surface area, while a point-elastic sports floor reacts in a more localized area. A combination flooring system combines the properties of both area-elastic and point-elastic flooring.

Area-elastic flooring is almost synonymous with wood flooring systems. Wood sports flooring typically consists of a solid surface with shock absorbing pads underneath. With area-elastic flooring, a larger area of the surface is engaged in returning energy to the athlete. However, an inherent property of area-elastic floors is a dissimilar performance over the entire surface, Williams said, due to an unavoidable lack of uniformity in the placement of shock pads, sleepers and other subfloor supports.

Athletic facility managers interested in acquiring a wood sports flooring system have several options from which to choose. The first and primary choice to be made is between permanent wood systems and portable wood systems. Portable wood systems are typically used in multi-use facilities such as municipal arenas, which may not be dedicated to year-round sports. Permanent wood systems are used in facilities dedicated to sports like basketball or volleyball. Wood sports surface systems are usually surfaced with either a solid or laminated strip of wood. The wood species most commonly found in the best basketball floors are maple, beech and oak.

Solid wood strip products generally can be sanded more times than laminated floors over the course of a floor's life. Another important factor when developing the appearance of a floor is the finish. The finish is what controls the level of surface friction.

Resilient sports flooring such as vinyl, rubber, polyurethane and linoleum represent point-elastic flooring systems. These gym flooring options have uniform performance across the whole playing surface. This means that every location on the floor will have almost identical shock absorption. One benefit here is that the surrounding areas of the floor remain relatively unchanged by activity in a particular area. Essentially, a point-elastic floor interacts with each athlete on an individual basis.

Combi-elastic systems, also known as combination systems, consist of an area-elastic substructure with a point-elastic resilient surface. By engaging both types of elasticity, they respond to impact both locally and across the wider surface area. As a result of this duel response, combination systems are widely regarded as one of the best sports flooring options in terms of comfort and safety. Combination systems also provide a high degree of uniformity and are typically ranked in the higher classes of shock absorption.