Feature Article - March 2015
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Court Sense

Experts Offer Tips on Choosing Indoor Sports Surfaces

By Rick Dandes

Getting the best use of your indoor sports surfaces, such as basketball and volleyball courts, starts at the design stage, and choosing the right flooring for your facility. Sports surfaces are best used in a very specific way and, beyond safety and comfort, their performance characteristics are often sport-specific. What is considered optimum footing—friction, traction, slide and protection against foot-lock—will vary from one sport to another.

And while appearance has no direct effect on athletic performance, the existence of design options also will allow the architect to create the preferred ambience in the building. Even more than aesthetics, however, durability and wear resistance of certain features, such as painted logos, borders and keys, as well as design patterns in the product itself, need to be taken into consideration, said Gabe Martini, manager of a sports flooring manufacturer based in Utica, N.Y. Since different colors of product may wear at different rates, in addition to the uneven wear caused in high-traffic areas, the presence of design features typically leads to more frequent resurfacing and higher lifecycle cost, although the amount will vary depending on the type of product.

What indoor sports facility managers also need to do, suggested Chad Eason, associate athletic director for operations and events at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pa., is work to develop (or work with those who have) extensive expertise in designing floor systems for competition facilities that can also perform as recreation and multi-function spaces. For, no matter what the size of the facility or the complexity of events, you need the right kind of sports flooring to meet the needs of your users.

Defining Needs & Scope

To get the most value from the sizeable investment in an indoor sports surface, an owner must take care in defining needs, exploring available options and making appropriate choices, Eason said. To ensure user safety, surface longevity and long-term maintenance, it is necessary to make an educated and well-informed decision regarding the choice of athletic flooring.

Early in the project, an owner must decide on its scope, Martini added. What sports or activities will take place in this facility or on this floor? The specific sports to be played on the surface may influence the appropriate structural resiliency, surface hardness, surface texture, ball bounce, etc., for the proposed surface.

"The key is, the space has to be user-friendly," Martini said. "If possible, it should accommodate multiple sports. But the design is important. If we're talking about an indoor area—a small fieldhouse, for example—you don't want too many things going on in the same relative area. So design the court to be flexible, but not too confusing."

No matter what the size of the facility or the complexity of events, you need the right kind of sports flooring to meet the needs of your users.

Using tennis as an example, Martini explained, "Most tennis courts are laid out for adults; they are full-size. From a programming standpoint, it is just appealing to the adult population. But there has been a real push the last three or four years to bring that down a little bit by using 'quick start' courts. They are a little bit smaller. We don't expect kids that are 10 years old to go out on a full-size soccer field; why would we expect to send kids on a full-size tennis court? The logic doesn't follow."

From a programming point of view, you can take a full-size court and convert it into four quick-start courts, going across the courts, with two on either side of the net. It's about design. Now you have, on the same court, programming for both adults and kids. You've increased the programming in the same space, and introduced kids into the game in a way that enables them to enjoy it more.

Other questions to ask in the early stages of planning and design stage are: Which age groups typically will use the floor? Children in elementary schools have different safety needs from high-level college athletes. The same is true for elderly populations. At what level will these sports be played? Will sports with a very specific need for floor performance be played? For instance, indoor tennis or track events require specific and differing surfaces, Mason said. Non-athletic uses also should be considered. What kind of events will be hosted in the facility when it is not being used for recreation activities? Will the space, in the case of school gym, be used for the school dance, lunches or holiday programs? Will concerts also be on the agenda?

The principle function of an athletic surface is to provide the appropriate levels of safety, comfort and performance, Mason said. Young children's musculoskeletal systems are vulnerable. Safety includes protection against traumatic injury as well as long-term wear. A floor's force reduction, or resiliency, influences safety in a way that goes well beyond simple comfort.