Considering Safety When Purchasing a New Sports Floor

Anyone responsible for a large purchasing decision can quickly grow overwhelmed during the research phase, especially when trying to review all available options. If you are the person in charge of researching and selecting a new floor for your gymnasium or fitness area, you have likely experienced this frustration.

After all, the surface of athletic floors all look the same, so that makes them all equal, right? Not quite.

Critical Importance of Subfloor Build-Up

Beneath the surface of a shiny hardwood floor with painted school logos and gamelines is a well-engineered subfloor consisting of just the right amount of mechanical features that provide protection for the athlete. The subfloor build-up is critical to the long-term health and safety of the athlete since the floor can have a significant impact on joints, muscles, and the endurance of the player.

Design and construction of the floor is actually a science. While it is great to have a floor that looks good on camera or from the stands, it’s actually more important to have a safe floor that improves performance and enhances the endurance of the athlete. This means, along with analyzing other criteria, you are called to determine which floors are the safest. There are several things to consider when selecting a new floor. With all the options available, you must first consider your budget, floor thickness requirements, climate and humidity levels, activity and purpose, hardwood or synthetic, location, size requirements, and other factors. Once you analyze your needs and budget, and are “keeping it real” by considering your requirements first, you have narrowed down the options significantly.

The Importance of Safety

Now onto a critical part: safety. Athletes begin their entry into the world of sports at a younger than ever age these days. Many sports programs start exposing kids as early as pre-school age, which means many kids will have played at least one sport on a gym floor. As they get older, the number of kids participating in sports programs continues to increase, and thousands of kids will have spent hundreds of hours in the gymnasium by the time they get to the collegiate level. Floors that are not properly constructed with athletic safety in mind can have a negative impact on joints and muscles, increasing the risk of injury.

Safety Guidelines for Sports Flooring

Now, let’s consider what actually makes a floor “safe”? Here are some guidelines to follow when researching and considering the purchase of a new sports floor:

1. Subfloor Design: The subfloor design in a Maple sports floor consists of multiple layers and components that provides the ideal amount of resiliency, or cushion, suitable for various sports and activities. It gives the floor a certain level of “bounce” or “spring.” The subfloor layer is vitally important because it protects athletes from playing on an extremely hard surface. The harder the surface, the greater the risk of injuries to the athlete, especially over time. Imagine running on a concrete floor and the toll it would take on your body over time. Proper subfloors provide a comfortable playing surface that aren’t as harsh as concrete or other hard surfaces.

2. Performance Testing: When a sports floor manufacturer designs a new floor, it undergoes a series of tests that must meet certain performance standards. Similar to crash test ratings for the automobile industry, sport flooring is tested for various factors that have an effect on performance and safety. There are a few areas that are tested, one of which is shock absorption, also known as force reduction, is a floors ability to reduce the impact on the athlete and instead absorb the impact into the floor. This provides comfort to the athlete and allows them to reserve energy during activities.

Another area that is tested is the area of deflection, or the area of a floor surrounding an athlete during impact. It is important to design a floor that is soft enough for comfort, but not so soft that it has a trampoline effect and negatively impacts athletes that are close to one another during game play. For example, when a volleyball player jumps to block a ball, their impact on the floor when landing should be contained to a small area to prevent a teammate from feeling this impact. Next is surface friction, which is an important test for measuring the amount of slip resistance in the floor finish. Most sports floor systems are finished on site and the finish chosen by the contractor. Some manufacturers also offer a pre-finished floor option.

Regardless of the method chosen, the floor finish must have enough friction to control sliding of the athlete on a floor, but also be flexible enough to allow some movement. An extremely slippery floor or a floor that is too rigid or tacky can cause serious injuries to the players and potentially affect their future participation in sports.

3. Northern Hard Maple: Maple has been the preferred surface for athletic hardwood surfaces since the early years of basketball due its strength and ability to withstand a lot of wear and tear. Northern Hard Maple is harvested in the northern part of the US for a variety of purposes, with sports flooring being one of them. Most of the US manufacturers of hardwood sports flooring belong to the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association (MFMA). Not all hardwood floors are created equal, so they work together to ensure the highest quality standards of Maple for sports flooring comes from America’s forests in a responsible and sustainable way. There are plenty of products that claim to be equal or better than Maple for sports surfacing (bamboo, imported Maple, exotics, etc.), but none of them compare to a Northern Maple floor and the measures that are taken by the industry to ensure its quality and sustainability.

4. Quality Installation: Equally important is hiring a contractor that specializes in sports flooring installations. There are thousands of flooring contractors to choose from, but very few that specialize in sports flooring and are authorized to install a sports flooring manufacturer’s product. It is important to do your research and hire a reputable contractor that understands the mechanics and science of a sports floor system. A bad installation can result in a bad subfloor, which results in performance issues down the road. The MFMA offers an accreditation program for installers to ensure quality and proper installation. Don’t be afraid to ask a contractor for a copy of their accreditation certificate.

While considering all of these factors may seem like a burdensome task, remember that the typical maple sports floor lasts for 40-50 years, and in some cases even longer. Compared to all other surface material options on the market, a maple sports floor has the lowest overall life cycle cost. In short, a few months of research to choose the best floor for your facility, and the safest floor, is well worth the time and investment for athletes of all ages and every skill level.

About the Author
Jamie Darpel is the Marketing Manager for Robbins Sports Surfaces (, a division of Robbins, Inc. She is in her seventh year leading the marketing efforts at Robbins and has over 12 years of experience as a marketing professional. She holds a BA from Northern Kentucky University.