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A Fast, Easy Guide to Field Overuse: How much is too much?

soccer ball

You’re worried about overusing your field.

Aren’t we all?

Field overuse is a normal concern. It can seem like a balancing act, wanting to get as much use as possible out of your field and wanting to keep it in top condition. With ever-increasing budget cuts and safety regulations, taking good care of your field is essential.

Let’s dive into the science of how much a field can be used, and then look at some simple solutions. We’re going to divide this into two categories: turf and grass. They’re both very different and the field use guidelines are unique to each. We’ll start with synthetic turf and then switch to natural.

How to Get the Most Out of your Turf Field (Based on New Research)

soccer ball

So how much field use is too much?

Well, there’s good news: according to the Synthetic Turf Council, synthetic fields are three times more durable than natural fields. The nylon turf is more resistant to twisting cleats and rough tackles. It doesn’t die with a lot of field activity. The STC found that a synthetic field can withstand 3,000 hours of playing time a year. This breaks down to 250 hours a month or 8 hours a day, plus turf fields don’t require long “rest periods” like natural fields.

Wait:

Eight hours a day? How is that possible?

With maintenance—really good maintenance. Turf requires less care than grass (think about all the fertilizing, mowing, aerifying, etc.) but it still needs repairs. Over time, playing will:

-Wear down the fibers. Even though they’re made of nylon/polypropylene, they aren’t invincible. The fibers get ripped out and tattered.

-Make the infill uneven. This happens generally in high-traffic areas like midfield. The playing surface becomes irregular as the infill gets moved around.

-Compact rubber infill and decreases shock absorption. This is dangerous for the athletes, as impact can cause joint injuries and even concussions.

-Mix debris with the infill. Little pieces of metal and plastic get mixed in with the infill, as well as bacteria, sweat, blood, and who knows what else.

Fields that aren’t maintained properly will break down faster. The rubber infill compacts from repeated impact, making the field hard and unyielding. That is Concussion Central for your athletes because of decreased shock absorption. The sun also causes heat damage to the synthetic fibers.

To sum it up, the game will suffer. Players can’t perform to their best ability on a hard, trashy field. They’ll get all types of injuries. The ball can’t even bounce straight.

So now the question: how does your field measure up?

Effective, Proven Tests to Assess the Condition of Your Field

testing turf

To know the state of your field, you can perform simple tests measuring abrasion resistance, ball rebound, and climatic resistance. The most common test is called G-max testing. G-max testing measures high impact shock absorption. All the standards for these tests are set by FIFA: find them here. These tests will show how much your field has broken down and what you need to do to keep your turf field looking great and to keep your athletes safe. There are many companies, such as Sports Labs USA, that will give you a free quote for performing the required tests on your field.

The To-do List for Having an Unparalleled, Beautiful Synthetic Field

So what do you need to do? Here are a few basics:

  • unpack infill
  • Repair carpet tears
  • filter out debris
  • apply disinfectant and fabric softener
  • repaint lines
  • add sand
  • patch up turf

These maintenance procedures are fast and cost-effective. The hardest part is spending the energy to get them done. But the results are worth it. The fans and players will appreciate a well-maintained field, and it improves the reputation of your school/company. Your field will last longer, feel safer, and look better for years to come.

The Sobering Truth about Natural Grass Field Overuse

closed field sign

Imagine a soccer field with thinning grass at midfield, dirt patches in the goalmouths, and dead yellow splotches throughout the entire field. Ugly.

All of these are the result of field overuse and insufficient maintenance. Dozens of cleats trample the grass on a daily basis, causing soil compaction. This occurs mostly in high-traffic areas like midfield, sidelines, and goalmouths.

Soil compaction is when soil particles are compressed into a smaller volume. This decreases the pore space (the space between particles) and causes many problems:

  • Water cannot infiltrate the soil. The roots won’t get the water they need, and pools of water will form on the field. Grass growth will be limited because it is essentially experiencing a drought.
  • The roots can’t grow because the soil is too condensed.
  • Oxygen and other nutrients cannot flow throughout the soil. Without nutrients, the grass will start to thin out and die.

Combatting Compaction-It’s Worth the Effort

football practice

Unfortunately, soil compaction is inevitable on a sports field, but you can slow it down. Here are a few suggestions from the Sports Turf Managers Association to prolong the life of your natural field:

  1. Rotate activities and practices between fields. This allows the grass “time off” to grow and repair itself.
  2. Use portable goals and move them around for practice. This alternates traffic patterns and shifts activity from the high-traffic areas used during game time.
  3. Do warm-ups off the field. This is an easy change that can take pressure off the field for a time. Even twenty minutes a day for warm-up and cool-down will help to prevent field overuse.
  4. Only permit mandatory activities to take place on the field. There are events, dances, concerts, etc. that can be held elsewhere. The field is designed for sports practice and games. Anything extra will provide extra damage.
  5. Educate field users about rotating foot traffic patterns. The more the coaches know, the better they will be willing to rotate their drills.

Is the Dying Field Your Fault? Depends on Your Maintenance

sports field maintenance

Sorry to break it to you.

If your field is dying, it’s not the grass’s fault.

You’ve got to have good maintenance. This allows for more playing time and prolongs the life of your field. No, It’s not a hole in your wallet. Keeping your field dense and green will increase its lifespan and increase player satisfaction.

There are many necessary steps to maintaining a natural field. The basics, of course, are water and mowing. Then comes aerification. Aerification improves the amount of oxygen in the soil, which helps the roots stay alive and continue growing. A technique called verticutting removes the dead organic layer, called “thatch” from the top of the soil. This allows sunlight and water to penetrate the soil and nourish the grass roots.

Next up?

Topdressing

Topdressing with sand will allow more oxygen in the soil profile and naturally levels out the field. Overseeding, which is adding grass to already established fields, especially in the off season, will increase grass growth and decrease the negative effects of playing time. You can even overseed high-traffic areas during the season. Allow rest periods so the grass can replenish itself, and perform soil tests to know the exact type of fertilizer your field needs. All of these techniques will help your grass grow faster and more dense.

The main idea is this:

The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

High-level maintenance takes more time and effort but allows for more playing time without ruining the grass. Create a year-round maintenance plan and educate field users so your field stays dense, green, and beautiful throughout the entire year.





References:

Steinback, Paul. “Maintaining High-wear Areas on Natural Grass Fields.” athleticbusiness.com. Aug 2013.


Synthetic Turf Council. “Synthetic Turf 360: A Guide for Today’s Synthetic Turf.”


White, Patrick. “Maintenance Matters on Your Synthetic Turf.” Sportsfield Management Magazine. 24 Oct 2016.