How to Prevent Sagging Sports Netting
Published May 12, 2023
When it comes to sports facility installation, there are two long-term concerns to avoid. The first is, wrinkles in artificial turf. Very few things in sports facilities are more dangerous or uglier than pesky wrinkles in the playing surface. We address how to avoid this in other ATX blog posts. But the second biggest nuisance, and the topic of this post, is saggy sports netting. We’ve all been in cage facilities where cables release slack over time or the net is compromised, resulting in unsightly, droopy nets and lowered ceiling heights.
Post “Do Not Hang on Nets” Signs
The first, and easiest way to guard against saggy nets, is to simply post signs “Do Not Hang on Nets.” We’ve all seen kids, and even adults, observing from the outside of the cage or soccer field, with their hands clutched to the net and leaning in. Too much of this added weight and tension over time, will pull down on your cables used to hang the nets, leaving your facility with saggy nets. Make some signs, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and hang them where everyone can see them. Typically behind homeplate, and some of the sides by the walkways.
Avoid Walking Your Divider Nets
Many Batting Cages have retractable divider nets within a larger shell, which manually slide on a divider net cable, suspended just below the ceiling net. While walking the divider net back and forth to open and close, the tendency is to pull down on the net while walking the length of the cage. As the owner of the facility, instruct your coaches and players to avoid pulling down when doing so. When opening up the space, it’s best to stand at one end, and pull the net back, in almost a swimming motion, until the net is pulled all the way back. This prevents the pulling down motion which occurs when walking the net back.
Use Split Bracket Pulley with Spring Clips
It’s common to see the rope border of the net clipped to the galvanized cable with spring clips around the edges of the cage. On retractable divider nets, using split brack pulleys allow the net to glide more easily when opening and closing, reducing the tension which pulls down the cables. Springs Clips often get crossed over each, and the underside of the clip gets worn over time, making it significantly harder to slide the nets due to the force required.
Proper Initial Installation of Netting
While the previous methods are preventative, post net installation, the best way to prevent sagging nets is by using the right hardware and techniques in the initial net installation.
We could write another entire article about how to anchor the cable to your structure. If the studs behind your drywall do not line up with edges of your cages, you can use unistrut, found at electrical supply stores, or often other pieces of wood to create anchor points in the right place. They can also be used to disperse the tension across multiple studs or support beams. Unistrut is very versatile, in that it can also be hung from ceilings, when properly mounted, to create termination anchor points in the middle of clearspan buildings for example. Note: It’s best to consult an engineer or architect when dealing with potentially load-bearing beams and structures.
This article, however, will focus on the hardware to use after you have solved your anchor point problem. In this example, we’ll simply assume that an eye bolt is screwed into a wooden support beam.
Turnbuckles are the key to ensuring you have a tight cable from which to hang your net. The benefit to turnbuckles are that they can be tightened over time, so if your cable and nets do begin to sag, you can get on a ladder and “turn” or “screw” the buckle in order to eliminate the slack in the cable. Turnbuckles come in many sizes and configurations. Unfortunately, the local hardware stores only have the smaller turnbuckles, under 8 inches, which is fine for some home projects, but to hang 70’ feet of cable, we really need a larger turnbuckle to deal with that much tension. In facilities requiring 100’ or more of cable, we’ll typically use 9” or 12” turnbuckles.
Second, turnbuckles can come with eyes, hooks or jaws. You will most frequently see the eye and hook, or eye and eye in stores. The eye & jaw combination are best for batting cages and it is extremely rare to see these in local hardware stores or Home Depots. They typically need to be ordered from specialty supply outfits.
As seen in the picture, the jaw end of the turnbuckle goes into the eye bolt, which is screwed into the stud. The ¼ galvanized cable, is then looped through the eye of the turnbuckle. We typically leave at least 18” of “tail” of cable which is secured back to itself with cable clamps. We like to use 2 for longer cages. When hanging the cable, it is only necessary to use a turnbuckle at one end of the cable. On the opposing end, the cable can simply be looped through the eye bolt, and again secured with 2 cable clamps. Make sure to pull the cable as tightly as possible. You can even use a come-along, or cable winch puller.
Once your cables are hung, then you can begin putting the pulleys and spring slips on the cable from the retractable nets. The “split brackets” simply go around the cable and then the spring clip, goes through the 2 holes of the bracket. We like to see these every 18” inches, so for a 70’ divider, you would need about 47 of pulleys and clips. From there it’s a matter of clipping the spring clips to the rope border of the net.
Note: Never attach a spring clip directly to the net mesh itself. While the mesh is strong enough to catch balls, it is not designed to withstand the force of supporting the entire net itself. They will eventually flay, and break, resulting in holes in your nets. Your baseballs will go through, up into the ceiling.
It’s not hard to have a great looking Batting Cage for many years to come, but it does require some forethought and maintenance. If you can prevent the unnecessary wear from pour human behavior and invest in the right equipment from the beginning, such as turnbuckles and split bracket pulleys, you can have a nice tight, cage with high ceiling nets without holes for a long time.