Sports Surfaces

Selecting Sports Surfaces for Your Facility

By Ken Chmura and Joe Corbet

Choosing the appropriate sport flooring for your recreational facility is a major investment that will have an important impact on the use, potential revenue and facility maintenance costs. What follows is a list of six important steps to take when planning a sports complex addition, constructing a new sports venue or renovating a sports facility.

1. Prioritize Your Activities

When selecting sports flooring for your facility, you must first organize your needs by listing and prioritizing all the activities that will take place in the space. For example, ask yourself what level of sports and recreation will occur. Will there be high-level sports tournaments, as well as youth sports camps conducted in the facility? Also, what types of sports will be played on the flooring? Consider if the space will be multi-use and hold community events, banquets or assemblies. You should list how many times a week each type of special event will take place. Lastly, evaluate which type of events will drive most of your revenue and plan accordingly with the right kind of flooring.

2. Understand Your Options

As with any big purchase, you must weigh your options and make an educated and informed decision.

Multipurpose activity normally eliminates wood flooring as an option because it is not designed to handle these kinds of activities and will create a much higher maintenance cost due to refinishing requirements throughout its life cycle.

Rubber flooring, on the other hand, can handle multipurpose activities, but a high coefficient of friction for basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer, and therefore is not a safe alternative if these sports are part of your plan. Coefficient of friction measures the grip and slide of a floor and is a crucial element to consider with sports play.

Poured-in-place flooring used to be a popular selection, but prices have greatly increased to meet VOC (volatile organic compound) requirements, and it is typically available only in solid colors. They also require additional coating that makes them far more expensive than the initial installed price.

Snap-together tiles are yet another option and are inexpensive, but certainly don't have the playing characteristics or the image that most facilities are hoping to create. The old adage, "you get what you pay for" definitely holds true with this type of floor covering.

A popular selection that combines excellent sports performance properties and the ability to host multipurpose events is vinyl flooring. However, not all vinyl sports floors are made the same. A good multipurpose and sports vinyl flooring should consist of a multi-layered construction of pure vinyl, double density backing and close cell foam backing with a reinforced fiberglass grid. This type of construction combines the benefits of shock absorption and ball rebound (bounce) needed for sports activities, as well as indention resistance and recovery to furniture and heavy foot traffic.

3. Ask for the Floor's Sports Properties

Look for the appropriate sports properties in your flooring. These include shock absorption, coefficient of friction, absence of area of deflection, the overall appearance and manufacturer's expertise.

To begin with, a floor's thickness doesn't always translate to greater shock absorption, so it is important to ensure the floor is compliant with the ASTM F2772-09 indoor sports properties standard. This standard sets the bar in shock absorption levels and playability for optimum performance and safety. Playability is measured by the ball bounce or rebound, which needs to be a minimum of 90 percent across the entire surface. Similarly, safety is measured by the floor's ability to absorb shock, also known as force reduction, and needs to be a minimum of 10 percent. This standard acts as a "safety net" as it ensures protection for your athletes and facility patrons by minimizing stress on the body and helping to prevent injuries.

Good sports flooring should have the optimal level of grip and slide, or coefficient of friction, which is the ability for the player to have the right level of slide, break or dive during play. Look for a vinyl floor with a finishing that offers the right level of coefficient of friction and also offers a burn-free surface when playing sports like volleyball where diving and falling are common.

Another advantage of high-performance vinyl flooring is its consistency throughout the floor of having no area of deflection. The greater the area of deflection of a sports floor, the greater the risk of vibration, injuries and "dead spots." These dead spots affect how the ball bounces and can be detrimental to sports play. Additionally, a good vinyl sports floor will have the look of hardwoods, without the headache of high maintenance. That is, there is an array of patterns and wood colors in vinyl flooring currently on the market that can satisfy even the most discerning facility manager or sport enthusiast.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider, on which all floor qualities and characteristics are based, is the expertise of the flooring manufacturer. A flooring company should have a proven track record of success with specific case studies and examples available to help you make decisions.

4. Consider Multipurpose Activities

Your multipurpose needs also need to be weighed against your sports needs. Good vinyl flooring can handle most activities in a sports complex, such as high foot traffic and resisting indentations to recover quickly from tables and chairs. For sports events and community events, a vinyl floor's sound insulation properties are a huge advantage in reducing echoing noise of an open space that holds hundreds of people. In fact, a good vinyl floor can provide sound absorption qualities up to 23 decibels.

If you plan on using your floor for multiuse events, you should make sure that it is easy to maintain and contains integrated treatments that protect against scuffs, scratches or stains. This is especially true if you plan on having banquets where food spills occur frequently. Vinyl is a natural solution when it is easy to maintain, but it is necessary to go a step further and ensure it has a no-wax finish that features a baked-in urethane (wax). With this feature, the floor requires simple cleaning and rinsing, which saves thousands of dollars in cleaning costs over the life of the floor. Compare this with wood floors that require coating, sealing and waxing, which adds more to the total annual maintenance cost. Furthermore, be sure to get budget costs of both installed price and expected maintenance costs so that you can make your selection based on the total cost needed to keep the product looking and performing great.

5. Do Your Homework

Contact manufacturers and ask to see similar installations of a floor product in comparable sports facilities. At a minimum, view at least two installations that are three to five years old so that you can see how it will perform over time. Don't make the mistake of selecting flooring based on a two-inch sample. Go see it in action! Select products with a history of success used for your particular needs. Questions you should consider asking when visiting an installation include:

  • How does the product look versus submitted samples after regular use?
  • Does it portray the image you were looking for on your project?
  • How does it react to sports play, slip slide effect, ball bounce, etc.?
  • How does this particular facility maintain it? Are chemicals or equipment necessary?
  • How well does it handle multipurpose events? What type tables and chairs are you using?
  • What game lines did they select?

It is imperative that you conduct a thorough investigation, which will save you research time for the other details of your project. This is your opportunity to see what to expect from your floor and how it will perform. Never select a floor product that is new and untested.

6. What Not to Compromise

Select a manufacturer that has many quality references and carries a good name in the industry. If you select a wood flooring substitute, make sure to view large pieces to ensure that the product selected actually looks like wood. Good vinyl floors with a wood look are made by using high-definition quality film. Also, select a product that uses a pure vinyl wear layer and ask manufacturers to provide you with a warranty on pattern wear-out, and not just manufacturing defects. You should choose a product with baked-in urethane treatment that is UV cured to avoid the need of any waxes for the life of the product, which will save you money in the long run. Another consideration is to look for a manufacturer with experience in making foam backing for sports and multipurpose recreation. The best option is a dual durameter closed cell foam with fiberglass interlayer that provides energy return for sports and indention resistance to tables and chairs. Finally and most importantly, beware of the pretenders! If something sounds too good to be true, it usually means it is.


Ken Chmura is Gerflor USA general manager, and Joe Corbet is Gerflor Sports Segment manager. For more information, visit

© Copyright 2022 Recreation Management. All rights reserved.