Largely unnoticed until there are problems, net posts are important for play, and for aesthetics.
It’s a good thing they’re not human because they might just get a complex. They stand around and do their job year after year, and you ignore them. But just let them start to show their age — lean a little, get a few age lines — and suddenly they’re the focus of everyone’s attention.
Fortunately, they’re net posts, not employees. But while they might be one of the less glamorous pieces of equipment on your court, they’re one of the most important. They hold your net at the proper height and tension, create consistent conditions for play, and add a neat look.
It’s a lot to ask of a piece of equipment that is largely ignored, so let’s take a few minutes to address the humble (yet valuable) net post. There are different types and different installations, all suitable for various uses.
Net posts are manufactured in both square and circular shapes. Either is fine, provided it conforms to The Rules of Tennis, which states that round posts be between 2-7/8 and 6 inches in diameter and square posts between 3 and 6 inches square. The top of the post can be no more than 1 inch above the net cable.
The most popular colors for posts are green and black. Net posts are commonly made of steel, although a few manufacturers do offer aluminum posts in order to prevent rusting. Net posts made of brass and of wood are also available.
Any net post must be strong enough to allow for safe tensioning of the net. A minimum yield strength of 1,100 pounds and a minimum tensile strength of 1,500 pounds are recommended. Posts generally come equipped with mechanisms for winding and tightening the net. The old lever-action tightening mechanisms have been phased out in favor of safer and more modern equipment; in fact, where these posts still exist, the owner should consider replacing them as they can constitute a hazard.
From the Ground Up
Proper net-post care starts at the ground level — actually, below ground level. And that, says John Welborn of Lee Tennis in Charlottesville, Va., is where people make their first mistake. “The main problem with net posts is that folks get lazy on the installation and pour a cylinder-shaped footing, which will heave up during the freeze-thaw cycles,” he says. “You have to go by the spec and pour the bell-shaped design, which takes extra work and therefore doesn’t get done.”
The need for the bell-shaped footing is echoed by Matt Strom, as well as by Colin Donovan, who adds, “In all climates, this shape will prevent the foundations from pulling over due to lateral stresses from the net cable.”
The appropriate depth for net posts will depend on soil conditions as well as geographic location of the courts. Footings should always be at least 6 inches deeper than the local frost depth, but not less than 42 inches.
David Moore of Cape & Island Tennis and Track in Pocasset, Mass., says architects in his area request the 42-inch depth, since the frost line in New England can be 3 feet. “The one important fact in all-weather or hard courts,” says Moore, “is that it is best to set the footing before the pavement is placed. This procedure prevents the common crack around the footing in the surface.”
Options for Multi-Sport Courts
Some courts need to multi-task in order to create spaces for other sports, such as playgrounds where kids can play tag, dodge ball or a variety of other games, in a safe, fenced-in area. Since nets and posts could constitute a hazard, manufacturers have developed equipment that helps with the quick-change artistry of such facilities.
“In public facilities where the courts are built for multi-use purposes, sleeves are recommended,” says Donovan. “You can remove the posts and insert a sleeve cap that enables the users to play basketball, volleyball or in-line hockey.”
Although setting posts in sleeves is more expensive initially, it makes for easier resurfacing and renovation of courts, since it may help prevent the future need to dig up the post footing in order to replace worn-out net posts.
Make it a point to do a regular walk-through of your facility and take a good, hard look at your net posts. Check for cracks around the posts, and check the posts themselves. Do they look bent? Rusted? Does the paint need a touch-up? Is any hardware damaged? Talk to a tennis court contractor if you have concerns.
If you’re experiencing constant problems with corrosion, ask your contractor about options that can help prevent this, particularly in certain climates.
“It might be news to some that in Florida you need to use galvanized steel posts to keep the salt (brackish) water from rusting through the steel,” says Welborn. “This makes the finish not be as smooth, but sure beats replacing the posts in a year or so.”
Come to think of it, maybe having net posts that are rarely noticed isn’t such a bad thing.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.