Feature Article - March 2015
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Court Sense

Experts Offer Tips on Choosing Indoor Sports Surfaces

By Rick Dandes


Choosing the Right Flooring

When you are looking at indoor sports surfaces, there, historically, have been a fair number of choices. "Some people have used surfaces that were never intended for sports and continue to do that inside, and it's really a detriment to the safety of the kids who play on those surfaces," warned Joel McCausland, director of product management for a Salt Lake City, Utah-based sports surface manufacturer. "We've seen people use everything from carpet, which is typically glued right on concrete with very little or no cushion, to a linoleum surface, sometimes used in indoor facilities, but should never be used for sports. They are just not safe. They don't give any cushion or resilience. They are an accident waiting to happen in most cases."

Having said all that, you have several traditional choices, McCausland said. Many companies deal in hardwood floors as well as modular floors and flexible vinyl floors, "so there is a broad range of indoor flooring surfaces that can be used specifically for sports. They deliver great shock absorption. But today's sports surfaces are very versatile and can be used in many different applications and they exist at various price points, depending upon what your budget is and what your application is in mind."

A wooden floor as an indoor surface is great, but requires constant scrutiny. With a synthetic floor there is not that perpetual maintenance. And with a tile floor, because it is all modular, if there is any damage, it can be repaired or replaced at a moderate cost; with modular tile, in-house staff can make most needed repairs without having to hire an outside specialist.

"So, one of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether synthetic or wood is the best option," said Jeff Williams, director of sports sales at a Peshtigo, Wis.-based sports flooring company. Typically, where athletics are going to be the priority, wood is always the preferred surface to play on, Williams said, but a great number of facilities also have to be multipurpose, "where it might be 50-50 percentage of athletics to non-athletics, depending on the type of facility—a school, a club or a church. Those kinds of facts lead you to the best possible solution. Again, a facility with more non-athletic functions generally will choose synthetic floor and those with a higher percentage of athletics choose wood."

At Bucknell, for example, there is a university fieldhouse that is home to the school's indoor track and field team, "but we also have 27 varsity sports and numerous intramural and recreational programs here at the school," Eason said, "and over the course of a year, probably most of them are going to utilize that space for one purpose or another. Add to that non-athletic events held in the fieldhouse, like concerts or an internship fair. So when it does come time to start looking to upgrade or replace the surface, it really comes down to looking at the cost of installation, of maintenance and the playability part of it. And then what the primary usage is. That is a tough call because it has to be track, but after that it is really a multipurpose facility." Trying to come up with something that is going to work for all those different events is the challenge.

The cost of wood vs. synthetic is relatively the same, believe it or not, Williams said. "It depends upon the use. Some sports are very specific and require a synthetic floor, and have specific surface requirements. Even with wooden/synthetic choices, a particular sport could lead you to a certain type of surface for your particular use."