Tennis Technology

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As the dog days of summer begin to wane and cooler temperatures hint at the coming of fall, owners and managers of indoor tennis clubs are once again busily preparing their court buildings for the upcoming season. Even though its a familiar routine to the many veterans of the industry, there is always the concern that something might get overlooked in the rush to make opening day. Here's a brief review of some important safety, maintenance and aesthetic issues to consider before the start of your next indoor season.

Court Safety

Perhaps the most important considerations in readying your facility are those related to player safety. Given today's litigious climate, people in all walks of life have been forced to become more careful. The tennis industry is no exception to this trend. The key to avoiding problems is to be vigilant about potential player hazards. With indoor tennis there are five key areas of safety.

Court Area

Basic to court safety is providing an adequate court size. The minimum recommended playing area is 60 feet wide by 120 feet. This translates into 12 feet of clear space adjacent to the sidelines and 21 feet of clear space behind the baselines (clear spaces being defined as free of any fixed obstructions such as a building column, railings, HVAC equipment, etc.). A minimum of 18 feet should be provided between courts where divider nets are used, and a minimum of 12 feet between courts where they are not. Due to building and economic limitations in the past numerous indoor facilities were built with undersized courts with only 18 feet or less behind the baselines and often 10 feet or less at the sidelines. Litigation surrounding player injury on these undersized courts has become commonplace. Therefore, if these conditions exist at your facility, it is a good idea to have a standard procedure of notifying players of these conditions. This should include written statements in membership literature, posted signs in public areas, and on the courts as well as verbal reminders by staff members. By clearly warning players, clubs have a better chance of avoiding frivolous litigation.

Divider Nets and Backdrops

Divider nets and backdrop curtains are another area of basic safety concern Their basic functions are to contain balls within the playing area, deaden ball bounce and provide adequate contrast to see the ball during play. Unfortunately, improperly installed and maintained divider nets and backdrop curtains can be the source of player injury and, again, costly litigation. To prevent problems, a divider net or back drop curtain should be installed so that it hangs from no more than one inch above the court to just touching the court surface. They should never drape on to the court itself. Backdrops should also be fabricated from a clearly differentiated or contrasting color from that of the court surface color so that players can better see the limits of the court area during play. It is also a good idea to maintain a minimum of one foot clearance behind a backdrop curtain and a fixed obstruction behind, though two feet or more is strongly recommended to allow for player overrun.

Padding

Related to court area dimensions and backdrop curtains is the provision of safety padding. Generally speaking, any fixed obstruction within the playing area or within 2 feet behind a backdrop curtain should be padded. Padding should extend from a maximum of 6 inches above the court surface up to a height of 8 feet, and be a minimum thickness of 2 inches. But even those guidelines are not enough for some manufacturers. "We use 4-inch padding on columns behind the baselines and on sidelines," says Chuck Louer, marketing manager of M. Putterman & Company, the nations largest manufacturer of indoor court products, "and run that padding at least 6 feet high." All padding should be firmly fixed so that it does not become dislodged during play. For padding that is within view of the playing area, a contrasting color fabric covering is recommended to ensure visibility of the potentially injurious object.

Surface Conditions

Another area of safety concern is the playing surface of the court. Hard court surfaces, for example, should be checked for areas where the surface texture has been worn away to the point that it has become a smooth, almost polished condition. These areas, typically at the baseline, can be quite hazardous and should be properly resurfaced to reestablish a proper surface texture. Fast-dry and sand-filled turf courts should be checked for low areas and excessive loose material. Playing lines on fast-dry courts should be checked to ascertain that they are not tripping hazards. Seams on roll-out and turf courts should be checked to ensure that they are properly adhered to the pavement substrate.

Safety Procedures

A key part to maintaining a safe facility is to establish documented procedures for staff members. This should include periodic safety checks, documentation of facility conditions and emergency situation procedures. Weekly facility walk-throughs, for instance, where court building conditions and safety checks as noted above are recorded in a logbook can be a useful way to make sure safe conditions are maintained. Such documentation is also useful in demonstrating a reasonable level of care in cases of lawsuits against the club. Establishing clear emergency procedures is also a good way to quickly assist injured players and properly document events surrounding the injury. Providing emergency phone numbers, basic first aid instructions, incident report forms for staff members, witnesses and the injured ensures that the situation is handled smoothly and is well documented in the event of future litigation. Regular review of safety check logs and emergency procedures with staff members keeps everyone aware of their obligations and responsibilities.

Facility Maintenance

Once safety issues have been addressed the next concern should be basic facility maintenance and repair. This includes both exterior and interior area of the court building.

Exterior Maintenance

On the outside, the primary concern is making sure the building is weather tight. It is a good idea to check that the roof and walls are in good condition and that all mechanical and vent penetrations are adequately sealed. Stains on the interior ceiling and walls are often indicators that there may be leaks or condensation problems. These area should be check carefully to stave off serious interruptions once the indoor season starts. Gutters and down spouts should be cleaned and securely in place. Surface drainage systems should be checked to make sure they are clear and capable of diverting storm water away from the building edges. Thought should also be given to snow removal preparations and procedures. Shovels and walkway de-icing agents should be ordered and ready. Heating coils and snow shedding devices should be secure and in good working order. Snow removal checks and procedures should be documented and reviewed with staff members to avoid potential problems during heavy storms.

Interior Maintenance

On the inside of the building, the focus should be on cleaning, checking and testing all equipment systems, and surfaces. For instance, clean all HVAC filters, inspect exhaust and fuel connections, verify fuel levels, lubricate motors, check that duct work hangers and coverings are cleaned and secure. Lighting should be thoroughly cleaned and burned out lamps replaced. Divider nets and backdrop curtain cables should be inspected and replace as required. Be sure to tighten cables to ensure that curtains and backdrops are properly positioned over the court surface. Also, replace worn panels and repair holes as needed. Check that all net posts are in good working order with cables in good condition and excess cable trimmed away. Also be sure to lubricate the crank mechanisms. Lastly, clean all net bands and center straps, repair any holes, and tighten the nets into position. It is a good idea to remove and store crank handles to prevent players from over tightening the nets or running into protruding crank handles.

Aesthetic Improvements

Not to be forgotten is the overall appearance of the facility. Too often aesthetic issues and player amenities are addressed only as part of major facility renovations. However, there are a number of relatively inexpensive improvements that can go a long way towards sprucing up lackluster facilities.

Building Color Schemes

One aspect in which a court building can look a little tired or run down is in the color scheme. In the past, indoor court building color schemes tended to make use of light greens and tans as a way to provide additional ambient light to poorly illuminated interiors. With today's more efficient lighting systems and use of highly reflective ceiling coverings, many clubs have returned to the use of more saturated colors for the surface as well as backdrop curtains. Backdrops composed of deep greens, teals and blues provide excellent ball visibility when used in conjunction with a properly designed lighting system. The proper selection of fabrics and surfacing materials, in combination with proper ceiling configurations, can account for as much as 10% to 15% more ambient light in a building interior. Indoor clubs that haven't yet made the transition to highly reflective dropped ceiling systems can still improve the appearance and light efficiency of their interiors in important ways. Painting the exposed metal work with a highly reflective white paint can improve the interior environment. Also, the use of white high-line curtains above the 10 to 12 foot level of backdrop curtains can also increase reflectivity and decrease the visual distraction of building framing members.

Backdrops

Another recent trend in indoor court design is the use of "cut-corner" configurations with backdrops similar to those used with fencing on outdoor courts. The added advantage of this type of layout is that each court can have its own individual entry point (from the corner) and waiting players have more room in which to stand. "Cut-corner" areas are also great spaces from which coaches and trainers can observe their players without distracting people on the court.

Nets and Net Posts

Changing nets and posts is another easy way to improve the look of a tennis facility. If you are still using the old-fashioned posts with the exterior winding device or lever type tighteners, replacing them with internal wind posts makes the posts look sleeker and are actually safer for players, Some manufacturers also provide brass or wooden net posts for a more elegant look. New nets with custom logos or even tapered nets nicely complement net post improvements.

Player Amenities

Providing utilitarian amenities is another way to subtly improve the overall appearance of an indoor club. Elements such as benches, water coolers, or trash cans on the court are little extras that make the player experience more comfortable. If such improvements are going to be used, make sure that there is sufficient room for these elements, as players may injure themselves by running into them. Clustering these elements at the net line between net posts is a good way to keep them out of a player's way, Remember that backless benches allow players from either court to easily use a bench without having to walk around. Even simple and inexpensive improvements like adding court number signs, installing building layout plans indicating court locations, or providing other directional signage to lounge areas or locker rooms, make using a facility a little easier.

Conclusion

Preparation activities should be thought of as a good opportunity to observe your facility with a critical eye. As you look around your own facility, ask yourself some of these questions:

If you can answer these questions with confidence, you'll be well on the way to meeting the challenges of the upcoming indoor season. 

by Andrew R. Lavallee, ASLA and Sheldon Westervelt, P.E.