On And Off The Court

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Flat surfaces with lines? Check.

Nets and posts?  Check.

Fencing and lighting? Check.

Perfectly clean surfaces free from debris, cracks, and stains?

If that last item can’t be checked off, it looks like your basketball and tennis courts have something in common--a need for maintenance.

While it’s tempting to think of sports surfaces that are hard and flat as also being maintenance-free, that’s not exactly the case. Like all sports facilities, tennis and basketball courts require periodic care to keep them, and the athletes who use them, performing at their best.

A Cross-Section
Most tennis and basketball courts are made of asphalt pavement covered with an acrylic coating specifically designed for the individual sport. Another court surface may be of concrete, which makes knowing what’s underneath essential when starting a maintenance program. Of the two types of pavement, asphalt is less expensive; however, it is more prone to cracking. Often, this is because it dries with age and becomes brittle. Courts located in climates that see freeze/thaw action will be even more subject to these changes.

Some cracks may simply be due to age, but others can be a symptom of a problem within or beneath the court. There are multiple ways of addressing problems, and a court contractor can give the best diagnosis and recommendation.

On The Surface
It’s not uncommon for leaves, pine cones and needles, grass clippings, and other organic materials to wind up on a court surface, but when left too long, these materials can cause staining and slippery spots for athletes and officials. Court builders advise facility managers to make periodic trips through the area with a leaf blower to remove dry debris. Sticks should be picked up and discarded or moved. If there are stains, start with the gentlest treatment possible, like warm water and a soft brush that won’t harm the surface. If the stains remain, call the contractor who installed the surface and ask for recommendations. Not all surfaces are designed to withstand chemicals or different techniques, so it’s best to avoid something that may damage the acrylic coating. It always costs less to make a call than it does to fix the damage.

The Net Result
Nothing looks worse than a tattered, rotted net. Leaving the problem uncorrected will give the entire facility an unkempt look.

∙ Tennis nets : A new net with a bright and clean headband can work wonders for overall court appearance. Make sure the net is correctly tensioned. The best type of post to use is one with an internal wind mechanism, which allows the court manager to wind the net to the correct tension, remove the handle, and leave. The net should be 3 feet at the center strap, and 3 feet 6 inches (42 inches) at each post. Remember to look carefully at the net posts and make sure they don’t show dings, chips, or rust spots. If they do, apply a rust-proof paint. Net posts should always be straight; ask the court contractor for ideas if posts are leaning inward.

∙ Basketball nets : Before putting up a new net, inspect the backboard. Apply a fresh coat of paint, if needed. Examine the rim carefully for any burrs, cracks, or sharp edges--they can pose a hazard to kids who want to emulate the pros by dunking the ball and hanging onto the rim.

Around The Edges
Fencing should be examined carefully. Spectators tend to lean on it or hang from it, and over time fencing can bag, droop, and even become dangerous in spots. Look for sharp edges, sagging rails, bulges, or other problems, and have them fixed.

Keep grass trimmed where it abuts the fencing. In rainy areas, grass, clippings, and dirt can build up, forming a“dam” around the edge of the court, leaving water trapped and unable to drain properly. Over time, this can lead to algae growth and stains on the surface of a court. It can also render a court temporarily unplayable if the problem is severe.

After most of the water from a rainfall has evaporated, check to see if any deep puddles remain on a court surface; these may be a symptom of a surface that lacks planarity and needs repair. Trim back any tree roots that may sneak under the court surface, as over time, these can cause heaving in the pavement.

Lighting is not required on recreational courts for either tennis or basketball; however, lighting is a great amenity and allows courts to host more games. Court lighting, like all other types, will wear out over time. Lamps can burn out or produce less light. Invest in a light meter and track the output. Remember that energy-efficient fixtures can result in cost savings, as can various types of on/off devices like timers and motion sensors.

Drawing A Line
Eventually, playing lines on basketball and tennis courts can start to look faded or worn. In some cases, the contractor may be able to restore them to a like-new condition. It’s an inexpensive fix, but can make the court look great.

If you’re contemplating new lines on a tennis court, consider adding the “10 and Under Tennis” specifications being promoted by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). These guidelines encourage tailoring tennis courts so they are sized appropriately for children, helping to build a new player base and increase programming. As of Jan. 1, rules now state that all USTA-sanctioned tournaments for kids 10 and under are to be played using the nets and new specifications. Visit www.10andundertennis.com to learn more.

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.