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Sports Training Facilities: Creating Successful Environments Focused on High Performance and Athlete Wellbeing 

By: Alex Brown, Senior Project Manager, Mortenson and Tamara Hartner, Design Phase Executive, Mortenson

Well-designed and expertly constructed sports training facilities have the power to influence more than just performance. By encompassing an athlete’s entire experience—from recruitment, improvement, and overall wellbeing to operations and revenue generation opportunities—sports training facilities continue to evolve into a space where athletes do much more than practice with their team. 

So what are the critical elements necessary for creating a successful sports training facility focused on high performance and athlete wellbeing? A space’s impact on athlete, coach, and staff success is determined long before the team’s first practice drill. Setting the right tone to ensure a meaningful athlete-focused result requires careful consideration throughout the design and construction process.

Facility considerations for athlete wellness

Sports medicine is a fast-evolving component of the sports training industry that expands beyond traditional training to support holistic athlete development—from the latest injury prevention technology and recovery treatment to mental health support and nutrition capabilities. Elite sports programs require one-stop-shop facilities that serve a variety of athlete, coaching, and staff desires while remaining flexible in their approaches to evolving needs. For student-athletes, this includes academic support spaces outfitted with tutors, study rooms, and more.

University of Washington Performance Center

To support a state-of-the-art sports medicine hub for athletes, the latest health and wellness components such as cryo pools and chambers, hydrotherapy tubs, hot/cold plunge pools, flotation baths, extremity pools, and hyperbaric recovery rooms are in increasing demand. Gaining insight into the latest equipment ensures design parameters are known well in advance, enabling seamless procurement, installation, and commissioning without impacting the project schedule for a seamless end-user experience.

A well-executed facility enhances player performance while remaining cognizant of an athlete’s demanding schedule. An example is the design for the University of Washington’s (UW) new Basketball Training Operations Facility, where elements draw from past successes at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Champions Center (CU Boulder) in anchoring all decision-making around the commitment to best serve student-athletes’ physical and mental demands. By co-locating amenities, CU Boulder’s student-athletes conveniently practice, weight train, eat, attend meetings, study, lounge, and receive medical treatment within a few yards. Efforts to prioritize the building’s interconnectivity save the student-athletes at least 30 minutes per day in travel time.

A facility should also include weight training technologies for performance analytics, specialized equipment and furniture, audiovisual/sound systems, branding, and graphics enhancements as well as thoughtful HVAC, lighting, and hygienic elements and upgrades. 

Trends in leveraging media and technology 

Experienced builders understand how critical it is to engage with athletes, coaches, and staff to ensure success from design through occupancy. At the UW’s Softball Performance Center, Mortenson’s team toured the coaches and players through design options aided by virtual reality (VR) mockups. Utilizing tools such as VR creates real-time opportunities for athletes to visualize their day-to-day experience in the facility and for coaches to get a sense of operations and player interaction. This exercise effectively supports an informed design and construction decision-making process, ensuring the finished facility exceeds expectations for operational performance. At Arizona State University’s new Mullett Arena, Mortenson leveraged an immersive VR experience to drive excitement for the new space, bolstering recruitment and attracting donors to help fund the new arena​. 

University of Colorado Boulder Champions Center sports medicine and recovery space

With technology’s ever-growing demand in sports performance, media-rich environments also define and brand sports facilities.

This multi-media experience extends into the athlete’s day-to-day life, where utilizing a facility with leading-edge technologies enables athletes to train in highly specialized environments that support individual and team performance. High-profile cameras on the court record an athlete’s every move—from body posture while dribbling a ball to the arc on a free throw—while force plates in the floor detect and measure the force athletes exert into the ground. Players can analyze their performance with data-driven insights to fine-tune their training regimens. The one-of-a-kind LeBron James Building at Nike’s World Headquarters takes this to another level, where Mortenson constructed four climate-controlled chambers with steel-clad walls capable of studying athletes’ physiological responses to exercise under any environmental conditions—including temperature, humidity, radiant heat, and airflow.  

Careful construction and design considerations 

Athletes require dedicated focus when training and honing their skills. Ensuring no disruption to their experience during construction and into the facility’s operational performance is paramount, especially when working on tight, seasonally-based schedule milestones. 

Disruption avoidance during construction 

Expanding and/or renovating training and administrative facilities is typically compressed between seasons. When expanding the Chicago Bears’ Halas Hall, Mortenson jumped in with the Bears and the design team to optimize the floor plan and minimize disruption during peak pre-season training hours.

Close coordination and planning optimize a project’s construction phase, allowing sports teams to remain in their existing locker room spaces until those phases are complete. Wherever possible, leveraging fast-track solutions such as prefabrication reduces installation time, enabling the team to meet accelerated schedules and providing an uninterrupted training experience going into the next season.

Halas Hall includes many wellness and relaxation spaces for the players, coaches, and staff (photo courtesy of the Chicago Bears)

During a tight off-season timeline, a seamless delivery through a proactive procurement and buyout plan is critical for success. Collaborating with the owner, operator, and design team to develop and advance document sets allows for early procurement of long-lead time items and issuance of work packages. Phased turnover approaches provide coaches, staff, and athletes advanced access to spaces as others are finished.  

Early enabling renovation and expansion work—including upgrading existing utilities, making significant seismic upgrades, or creating new foundations—can also be phased and structured before facility construction commences. This allows for a compressed schedule and minimizes interruption to existing operations. Mortenson saw success in this approach when executing Penn State’s Lasch Football Building addition in the seven-month off-season, allowing the team to depart for their bowl game before beginning demolition work.

Design considerations to enhance the athlete experience

When athletes train, noise and vibration from simultaneous activities can create disruption. At the University of Minnesota’s Athletes Village, Mortenson evaluated stacking scenarios for various program components to develop an understanding of structural and acoustic isolation impacts. Stacking the men’s and women’s practice courts with a unique split slab system enhanced sound isolation and structural system efficiency compared to previous designs. Earlier iterations included reviewing the courts side-by-side, resulting in double the sound isolation relative to the building’s other program spaces, long-span structural steel, and inefficient mechanical systems. Ongoing projects such as UW’s Basketball Facility leverage lessons learned and resources from these prior evaluations.

Scopes that require extra engineering—such as integrated hydrotherapy pools, force plates, medicine ball walls, and programmable plyometric ramps—demand an understanding of impact at the start of design to ensure correct installation and utilization.

Media systems and analytical tools must also account for adaptability as needs change and advance. Integrating the back-of-house infrastructure to support end-use devices during design —such as cameras, televisions, touch panels, and more—prevents limitations during construction. Though technology changes frequently, we can determine the infrastructure to support any equipment before selection.

As a family-owned, top-25 builder, Mortenson has ranked among Engineering News-Record’s top two sports builders for a decade. Our in-house sports analysts continually feed our well-established internal database populated with collegiate and professional benchmarking to support critical decision-making based on a fundamental understanding of the team’s goals and values. We use this knowledge to inform our approach to projects, including the UW Basketball Facility, set to start demolition in early 2024. Throughout our years of building successful projects, we have learned that whether determining strength training equipment or integrated technology, it is critical to work closely with a project’s design team, athletes, coaches, and staff to ensure training facilities are well-equipped to support peak performance and maximize overall athlete wellness.

Alex Brown is a Senior Project Manager at Mortenson with over 12 years of direct sports facility experience. Alex has been instrumental in the success of numerous athletic facility types, from Climate Pledge Arena and Chase Center to training facilities such as the Lasch Football Building. He is passionate about improving the athlete experience, especially through implementing cutting-edge technology that goes into their new spaces. He continually leverages his expertise to provide valuable input to ongoing sports training projects, such as the UW Basketball Operations facility, set to break ground in early 2024You can reach him by email or phone at 763-287-5236 or Alex.Brown@mortenson.com. 

Tamara Hartner is a Design Phase Executive at Mortenson in Seattle with over 20 years of hands-on experience in the construction industry and a strong athletic facility background. Tamara is currently leading design phase coordination for the UW Basketball Operations facility, utilizing experience and knowledge gained from her careful execution at Climate Pledge Arena. Tamara leverages her background in Lean processes and target value design methodologies to achieve outstanding value for the client’s vision. She plays a key role in procuring women-owned and minority businesses for active projects while serving as an ally and supporter of women, LGTBQIA2S+, and BIPOC in the construction and real estate industries. You can reach her by email or phone at 425-497-7116 or Tamara.Hartner@mortenson.com.