Selecting the right surface for your multi-use games area

Choosing the right sports surface can be a challenging task as there are so many factors to consider. There are lots of different surfaces and products to choose from, many of which will provide a suitable, long-lasting facility. However, due to the variety of sports played in the UK it is impossible to select a surface that will meet the preferred requirements for each and every sport, and when choosing a surface for multi-sports use it is inevitable that a compromise will be needed.

MUGA or multi-use games area is the generic term to define a playing area that is used for a number of different sports. Due to land availability and financial considerations, in most instances it’s not viable to build a bespoke surface for each sport and choosing the right surface is therefore essential.

Types of Surface
There are literally hundreds of different surfaces in the marketplace and choosing the best one for any particular circumstances can be difficult. The interactions between the player and surface, and between the ball and surface need to be considered.

One of the important issues relating to the choice of surface is the need for some form of shock absorbency (or cushioning), for which there can be conflicting requirements between the sports. On the one hand there are clear benefits for participants in protection from injury, but too much cushioning of the surface may be detrimental to the performance of certain sports, such as tennis, cricket, basketball and netball. A number of sports governing bodies provide guidance on the specific recommendations for their own sports.

Generally outdoor surfaces can be categorised into four main types, as follows.

Open-Textured Porous Macadam
Porous macadam comes in many different specifications and is often colour-coated to improve aesthetics and the playing environment. Being porous the surface allows water (rain) to drain through it and it can be used in adverse weather conditions.

The exact specification of the macadam will be dictated by the sport for which it is designed. Sports that commonly use porous macadam include tennis, netball and basketball.

Polymeric (or “rubberised”) surfaces have a degree of inherent shock absorption and they are normally laid above a porous macadam base. Polymeric surfaces are available in a variety of colours and specifications to suit the users’ requirements.

They are commonly used for netball, tennis, basketball and athletics training but can also be used for other sports.

Synthetic Turf
There are many different types of synthetic turf with a wide range of properties. Variables include the polymer used; the cross-sectional area of the fibre; the method of turf construction; the turf length; the turf density; and the infill materials (such as sand and/or rubber).

Due to the range of options many different sports can be played on synthetic turf however certain types of surface are more suited to specific sports. For example, football and rugby are suited to synthetic turf with a long fibre length, commonly called “third generation” (or 3G), and hockey is more suited to synthetic turf with a shorter fibre length.

Natural Turf
Some people believe that natural sports turf is the same as domestic grass but this is not true. Natural sports turf is a complex blend of speciality grass species design to provide optimal playing characteristics with sophisticated drainage systems.

Natural turf is commonly used for football, rugby and cricket but can of course be used for other activities.

How to choose the right surface

The first and most important factor to consider is the sport or sports that will be played on the surface. Certain sports lend themselves to particular surface types whilst others do not. It is important to prioritise the sports that will be played and choose the most appropriate type of surface accordingly.

The frequency of use needs to be considered. For example, a natural turf surface will not be capable of supporting the same intensity of use as a synthetic surface.

The life expectancy of the surface is an important feature. The longevity of the surface is related to the intensity of use and therefore this needs to be factored into the estimated life expectancy. This should also be considered in relation to the capital cost and sinking fund provision (life-cycle cost) and hence the replacement costs.

The sports performance requirements need to be considered. Sports governing bodies often stipulate specific playing characteristics for their sports. These standards are often related to certain standards of play (e.g. county, national or international) and can be more stringent for higher skill levels. If the surface is for more than one sport the priority sport should take precedent but it is often possible to meet the requirements for more than one sport (e.g. football and rugby).

It is also important to consider the ongoing maintenance requirements of the surface. Some surfaces need more maintenance than others, in particular natural turf, but the importance of maintaining synthetic surfaces should not be overlooked.

How much will it cost?

It is almost impossible to give an accurate guide price as there are so many site specifics to consider when building a new sports surface. The best advice is to get prices and specifications from several contractors to compare. While the lowest quote may be the most appealing at first sight, it is essential to consider if it offers the best value, when judged on a “like with like” basis. If most prices are similar and one is significantly lower, then be sure to ask the question why, and check if the tenders are similar, and if the construction specifications are the same.

In addition to the surface it is also important to consider other factors such as floodlighting, fencing and equipment.

For more information
Tel: 02476 416316