Shade Structures


By Mary Helen Sprecher

Remember those teenagers who used to baste themselves with baby oil and park on beach towels all day long? They grew up to become sun safety-conscious adults. These days, they are the parents of SPF-using, hat-wearing shade-seekers, and they’re none too pleased when they see camps that don’t offer some respite from the sun.

Fortunately, camps are taking these needs into consideration. Pools and picnic areas, once the haven of sunbathers, are featuring covered shelters. Even sports facilities--where onlookers often resignedly baked in the sun’s heat while taking in a competition--now offer plenty of options. In recent years, shade structures in these areas have become more aesthetically pleasing, more varied, and more interesting than ever before.

Staying In The Black And Out Of The Sun
Various options exist for creating shade around sports facilities. There may be permanent shade shelters (gazebos, pergolas, picnic shelters, and more), or temporary shelters (pop-up tents). There are shelters made with metal or wood posts and awnings, tension-supported structures, metal shelters, and those made of regular building materials like brick and wood. They may also be use-specific; for example, many benches on which Little League teams used to sit have become dugouts, or at least have some type of a sun shade.

These days, one can expect to see permanent structures that fit with the architecture of a given area. These may be as expensive as a custom-made shelter that fits over a specific area and has logos, or as low-tech as a table with an umbrella on it, purchased at a big-box store. Just remember to read the fine print. Wind, rain, and, ironically, sunlight, as well as other factors, can contribute to early wear and tear. Investigate warranties and read any consumer reviews regarding product performance.

The Right Structure, The Right Place
Shade is most appreciated in spectator and press areas and places where athletes rest. In an area with mature trees, there may be less of a need for man-made shade. However, given that many areas may experience rain and more (particularly during the spring, summer, and fall playing seasons), safe shelters will always be appreciated.

∙ Shade shelters near a playground should be placed in a way that allows counselors or supervisors to see and hear children at all times.

∙ If covered bleachers are used near a sports field, they may not necessarily be safe places for spectators or athletes in the event of an electrical storm.

∙ Shade structures near swimming pools should be set well back from sidewalks and other areas where children actively play or chase one another.

Guidelines For Sports Facilities
If a shade shelter is placed near a sports facility, its presence must not interfere with play or cause any danger to players. Although many sports areas, such as tennis courts, volleyball courts, and sports fields, have areas bounded by playing lines, athletes in the midst of a game often overrun an area.

Most sports have safe overrun guidelines to guard against athletes sustaining injury with spectators, bleachers, etc. These overruns (generally expressed as at least a minimum of clear space) are mandated by national governing bodies, and must be observed when it comes to placement of shade structures. Having slightly more space than the minimum is far better than having too little.

Tennis Courts : According to regulations, shade structures must be placed outside the playing area. A clearance of 12 feet from a sideline to any fixed object is recommended. If structures are located between two courts, they should be placed within 12 feet of the net line and at least 10 feet from a sideline. Players are more likely to see and be aware of a structure located on the long side of the court toward the middle than they are of something located behind the baseline. In all cases, however, observe the rules, and if in doubt, allow more rather than less space.

Basketball Courts: According to rules set forth by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), “any obstruction including seated team bench personnel shall be at least two meters from the playing court.” (Two meters is 6.56 feet).

Volleyball Courts : Outside the playing lines of a volleyball court is an area known as the “free zone.” The space can vary according to the type of play, but in many cases has a recommended minimum width of 2 meters.

Sports Fields : To a certain extent, the space around a sports field is determined by the sport itself and the level of play. In addition, many fields have multiple uses, and that can further confuse the issue of an appropriate safety zone, outside of which shade shelters may be placed. If you’re planning on adding a structure near a sports field (or any other multi-purpose facility), ask the advice of a specialty contractor with expertise in that sport.

Made In The Shade
As the shade-structure industry continues to evolve, it will provide even more items specifically designed for sports. These structures, whether tents, buildings, or something else, often feature places to store equipment, as well as having amenities like water fountains and outlets, room for coolers, trash receptacles, and more. There are even misting tents for races, triathlons, and other events, where a participant may have crossed the finish line in an overheated state.

Sun-worship is still alive and well, but SPF is being sought too. Plan for both ends of the spectrum, and you'll have it made in the shade.

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports facility design, construction and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.