Tips for Designing Sports Complexes

Tips for Designing Sports Complexes

If your company or organization is looking to design a sports complex, there are a few fundamental factors you'll need to take into consideration. Many of these factors, such as establishing the types of sports your facility will host and figuring out the needs of your user-base, will all play into your design decisions. Before you start reaching out to contractors to build the complex, you'll need to establish a baseline understanding of what qualities make these facilities stand out to users.

Learning more about how to design a sports complex is crucial for your lasting success. Consider the following tips for designing athletic complexes:

Determine Which Activities Your Sports Complex Will Host

As you design your sports complex, the first step will be to decide what activities you're planning to host. By knowing what sports you want people to play at your facility, you can start developing your sports complex design concept. Since each sport requires a different type of field or court, you'll need to ensure your sports complex has the appropriate space and facilities.

Consider some of the following sports and what you may want to include in your outdoor or indoor sports complex design:

  • Baseball: Since baseball is one of the most popular sports in the United States, baseball fields can be a very popular choice for most sports complexes. However, remember that different age groups and leagues rely on different sized fields, so you may want to plan to have multiple. 
  • Basketball: Basketball is played everywhere, from neighborhoods with a single hoop to full-blown gyms. A variety of sports complexes can host basketball courts, as the game can be played outdoors on concrete pavement and indoors on specialty wood flooring. Basketball courts are an excellent addition to a sports complex, as they can be used for pickup games, local leagues and tournaments. 
  • Soccer: Though soccer is often dwarfed by baseball, basketball and football in terms of the attention that tends to be given to their professional leagues in the United States, it's still a very popular game. Youth leagues, schools and other groups all play on soccer fields in sports complexes. A high school field will be somewhere between 100 to 120 yards long and 55 to 80 yards wide, so you'll need to plan to have plenty of space outdoors.
  • Football: Football is a sport you may or may not plan to have at your sports complex due to its designation as a high contact sport. If you do choose to include it, a fully painted field with end-zones can be a fan favorite of gentler versions of the game like flag football or touch football. The field can also be used for games like Ultimate Frisbee, making it a versatile addition to your complex.
  • Racquetball: You can find racquetball courts indoors or outdoors all over the country. The game hosts two to four people, with players bouncing balls off of walls as they try to score points. A court's walls will need to be around 20 feet high, with a length of 40 feet and a width of 20 feet. There are some variances between indoor and outdoor courts, so any sports complex will need to take those differences into account.
  • Tennis: The game of tennis can be played on a variety of surfaces, but clay, grass, hard and carpet courts are most common. Hard courts are regularly thought of as the best, due to their easy maintenance, durability and user-friendliness.

 Sports complexes must have baseball fields

In addition to determining which games are going to be played at your sports complex and ensuring you have the space for the appropriate fields and courts, your complex will also need to consider adding facilities that complement the sports being played.

Locker rooms are often a favorite of sports complexes, since they give athletes a place to safely store their belongings while they play the game. These locker rooms are often paired with bathrooms to give visitors a private place to use the restroom, take a shower and get changed. Of course, bathrooms are also needed throughout your sports complex to make sure you can accommodate the needs of visitors.

For the more ambitious facilities, pools are often an amenity that bring in more people to a sports complex. Pools can be indoors and outdoors, with areas for people to sit around them to sunbathe and relax. Some sports complexes will also have indoor gym areas that house weights and other workout machines. 

Deciding on your amenities will largely come down to the people you are trying to attract to your sports complex. Ensure that your sports complex has the facilities, courts and other amenities needed to give your target audience the best experience possible.

Consider the Needs of Players and Spectators 

Sports complex facility for spectators

Knowing how to start a sports facility often comes down to the types of people using it. Generally, you'll have players, spectators and staff all using your facilities regularly. In order for your facilities to give the best experience to all of these groups, your athletic complex design considerations should take all of the different needs of your users into account. Some of the main user groups you'll need to think about are as follows:

  • Players: Having the courts, fields and equipment that players need is crucial to their satisfaction. For example, basketball players won't likely want to come to your complex if you have a single basket, as they'll want a full-court and two baskets. Besides having high-quality areas for games, you may also want to think about if players will require changing areas, locker rooms and specialty parking, among other amenities.
  • Spectators: Though players often get the most attention, it's also important to take your spectators' comfort and needs into account. Complexes that regularly host tournaments and other events that draw crowds will want to consider adding seating for fans, accessible parking for large buses or vans, snack booths and conveniently located parking.
  • Members: Your members will be a user base that has higher expectations than regular spectators or players who may use your facilities as guests or at tournaments. Your members will likely expect fitness facilities to be available even when tournaments are taking place. They'll also expect a smooth check-in process, convenient parking, clean locker rooms and other amenities that make them more comfortable.

Spectators comfort

To help your design, try to answer some of these questions when determining how to improve your visitors’ experiences the most and meet their needs:

  • Who is going to use this complex?
  • What sports will be played here?
  • Will there be memberships?
  • Are the facilities indoors or outdoors? Both?
  • What will make an attendee's experience more enjoyable?
  • How many fields/courts per sport should there be?

While these questions aren't exhaustive, always try to be reflective and ask questions that can help you anticipate the needs of users before they ever articulate them.

 Ask questions

Additional Design Considerations: Turf, Lighting and Parking

People who know how to build a sports complex also know to pay attention to the details. Some of these details include your complex's turf, parking and lighting. As you design your facility, forgetting about these factors and others can have a negative impact on a visitor's experience. Take a closer look at why you should care about taking turf, lighting and parking into your design considerations:


Choosing the right turf for your complex is crucial. Multiple sports use turf areas, from soccer and lacrosse to baseball and football. As you choose your turf, you'll have a few options to choose from, going with either real grass or a type of artificial turf. 

Learn more about the different pros and cons of natural grass versus field turf:

1. Natural Grass

Natural Grass fields

One of the top turf options is natural grass. Some athletes prefer natural grass, as it's generally a softer surface with more give to it, which can be easier on an athlete's joints and knees. One study even suggests that natural grass is safer than artificial turf when playing a sport like football.

The cons to natural grass come down to its durability and how it performs in inclement weather. For example, natural grass can muddy and become slick, making it hard to play on and the chances of injury increase. Even in perfect weather, natural grass requires consistent maintenance, as grass can grow too high or get kicked up. Replanting grass, watering it and mowing it will be consistent tasks for those with natural grass for turf.

2. Field Turf

Field Turf

One of the newer artificial surfaces that sports complexes and professional teams tend to rely on is field turf. This kind of artificial turf tries to mirror the way natural grass feels. It's softer than other turf options, as it's made out of polyethylene blades and crumb rubber. Since its artificial, you won't' have to worry about mowing, and its irrigation systems will handle any draining that would normally hamper a natural grass field, leading to lower maintenance costs.

This kind of artificial surface also saves money due to its low maintenance costs. If you're trying to be more environmentally friendly at your facility, a major bonus of field turf is that you don't have to waste any water that would go towards watering natural grass throughout the year.

One of the downsides to field turf is how hot it can get playing on it. In fact, it's been reported that on a 98-degree day, turf can raise the temperature to 120 degrees. Additionally, some bacteria can survive on turf for over 90 days, due to the polyethylene plastic used for the blades. This can be a cleanliness concern if a facility doesn't regularly wash their turf.


Sports Complex Lighting

Especially if you plan to host games in the evening, you're going to need proper lighting outdoors. Many people enjoy playing sports in the coolness of the night, especially high-cardio games like soccer, basketball and tennis. To make sure you don't need to call games early on account of the sun going down, you'll need to make lighting a part of your outdoor sports complex design. 

Your lighting needs will vary, depending on the sport, the size of your complex and your budget. You may want to work with lighting experts to make sure you get proper coverage. To save money and get more life out of your lights, choose LED bulbs over traditional ones — they provide long-term energy savings and tend to have a longer lifespan.


Sports Complex Parking

Those who know how to design an athletic complex know how important parking is to its success. Though it may sometimes be the last thought of designers, it's one of the most crucial parts of your complex. After all, when people don't have a place to park, they won't be able to access your facilities. If an overflowing parking lot is a constant at your facility, many visitors will grow frustrated and stop coming. 

Besides attendee satisfaction, having enough parking is crucial for hosting events. Many sports complexes will host tournaments and other community events that bring in a higher number of people and vehicles. Event organizers will decide not to work with sports complexes that don't have enough parking for their teams, hosts, players and coaches. Generally, it's a good idea to have somewhere between 50 and 100 spaces for each field.

Parking capacity isn't the only factor you'll want to consider when evaluating your parking needs. Your parking lot placement can increase or decrease people's perception of your complex. A lot of placement comes down to distance. For those who can manage it, your sports complex planning design should try to get the parking lot close to your fields, courts, facilities and other primary locations for convenience.

Individuals who regularly use your facilities and field will appreciate the ability to pull right up to the area they want to use, not wasting any time having to walk over. Groups who hold events at your sports complex will also appreciate a parking lot that's close to your main areas, as they'll often be bringing equipment and other items with them. 

Another concern in regards to parking comes down to liability issues related to balls or other sports equipment damaging a vehicle. For example, if you have parking spaces right next to a baseball field, you'll need to have nets or other materials to prevent a ball from flying into a car's window. Besides putting in safety measures to reduce the chances of damaged vehicles, you'll want to put up signs around your complex that clearly state you're not responsible for damage caused by the games being played.

Common Challenges of Designing Athletic Complexes

Sports Complex common Challenges

Any outdoor or indoor sports facility design is going to face some challenges. Sports complex design requirements and challenges will need to be addressed in your plans for your sports complex to ensure the best possible final product.

One of the primary sports complex design considerations revolves around building regulations. Whether they're local, state or federal, you'll need to understand and act on the building regulations of your area. Sometimes, you may find out something you've included in your design needs to be adjusted due to requirements. You'll typically need to work with your local municipality and their zoning department to ensure your complex's design meets building standards.

When you begin the construction process, it's important you find a contractor you can trust. There are lots of them out there, so it can be a challenge to know how to find the right one. It can be a good bet to start narrowing down contractors by their prior experience working on sports fields and facilities. You should also look into their previously completed projects, check out their website and get references for their previous work.

Building an indoor sports facility will often come with a more complex building process. You'll need to consider factors like electricity, plumbing, occupancy capacities, ADA compliant access points and other elements. Though it may be a challenge to meet sports complex design guidelines and requirements, it's critical that you invest the time into following them.

Other challenging design considerations for sports complexes can come from factors such as visibility. You want people to use as many of your facilities as possible, so make sure users have a clear view of what you have to offer when they pull up to your sports complex. In addition, ensuring that they can have unobstructed views of the full field is a fundamental component, no matter where visitors are seated.

Tips to Keep Guests Coming Back

In the design process, there are a few different actions you can take to give yourself a higher probability of guests coming back — these include:

1. Plan to Host Tournaments

hosting tournaments at sports complex

By hosting tournaments, you'll give your complex free exposure and possibly gain new members. One of the best sports complex planning tips you can follow is to ensure your facilities are built to handle the needs of a large tournament. Comfortable seating, locker rooms, high-quality fields and other elements can make your sports complex a go-to destination in your community for tournaments and special events.

2. Respond to Feedback

improving your sports complex

Before you complete the design process, look at other successful sports complexes in your area. What do the people who use these complexes think about them? Find out what they wished their current complex could do better and what they enjoy. After your sports complex is built, be on the lookout for feedback about how you can improve your complex. Keeping the experience of players and spectators at the front of your mind will help you consistently impress them.

3. Use Shade Structures Outdoors

shade structures for athletes

In the hot summer months, even the most dedicated athlete might wince at the idea of playing a game in 90-degree weather. To keep people coming back to their facilities, many athletic complexes turn to shade structures — they offer a great place for athletes to cool off in-between games and comfortable places for spectators to sit under during the day. Besides their functional value, they improve the aesthetic value of your complex, making it an attractive place to spend time.

Choose USA SHADE for Your Athletic Complex Shade Structure Needs

choose USA SHADE for sports complexes

If your sports facility has outdoor areas, you can enhance your athletic facility's design by adding shade solutions throughout the grounds. From tennis court shade solutions to basketball court shade structures and more, our structures improve the appearance of your facilities and provide shade throughout. USA SHADE is proud of our custom approach that makes it easy for you to find a structure that fits your vision for your sports complex.

Contact us today with any questions, or request a free quote from our team to yours.

ARCHITECTURAL STUDIO Architectural Studio FOR DESIGN PROFESSIONALS corner-button-250.jpg