Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Know Your Goals to Design Effective Sports Fields
By Deborah L. Vence
Finding the best way to design your sports field really depends on what your goals are and what particular sports will be played on the field throughout the year.
Being flexible with design is important "so you have the capabilities to rotate fields and move fields around to spread wear," said Noel Brusius, sports park and athletic field maintenance supervisor, Waukegan Sports Park, and member of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA).
It's equally important to have a design professional working in conjunction with a certified builder as part of the design process, noted James D. Catella, CFB, CTB, Clark Companies, and fields division president for the American Sports Builders Association (ASBA).
Designing the Field
When designing a sports field, you need to consider what your main purpose will be for your field.
"Our fields are rectangular. There's no baseball or softball. [You have to ask], what are your uses going to be? We have multiple uses—soccer, lacrosse, rugby, anything that can be played on a rectangular field," said Ryan Bjorn, director of grounds and environmental management for the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md., and a member of the STMA.
"We just started construction on two new fields here. We created a playable surface larger than a regulation soccer field. That allows us to move and shift those fields around," Bjorn explained, adding that they are natural grass.
During the eight-week spring season, the SoccerPlex has tournaments mixed in. "We paint it weekly. The grass is always growing," he said. Also, it's advantageous to be able to move the fields so the middle of the fields isn't always in the same spot.
Whether your field is natural or synthetic turf, you need to have enough space to do multiple sports in the same area, Brusius said.
For natural grass, for example, you have to look at what kind of soil type you need—either sand-based or native soil. Sand costs more. Native soil is what you have on site. For sand-based, you are bringing in sand, which also means higher maintenance, in addition to the cost of fertilizer and irrigation. However, sand does drain better, which means your team can get back on the field more quickly following a rain event.
Brusius recommended making sure fields have proper irrigation and drainage for optimal playability. Other factors to consider include ensuring that you provide ample parking, restrooms and a budget.
"Make sure you have a budget that is in line with your expectations and users, and the amount of play. Have a sports turf manager to help with the design process," he said.
Sydney Stahlbaum, director of sales support for a Dalton, Ga.-based synthetic turf manufacturer, said design plans for multi-use synthetic turf fields should be done on two parallel paths.
"You'll need to plan for the turf carpet as well as the drainage system underneath the turf," she said. "The drainage and planarity are typically achieved by stripping the organics and using two different sieves of stone that interlock."
She explained that the depth of the drainage layer will depend on local conditions and should be designed by an engineer or architect, whether employed by an outside firm or by the turf provider.
"They'll evaluate your soil conditions with borings and other measurements," Stahlbaum said.
"When designing the turf system, you'll want to take a survey of the various user groups that are interested in using the field to determine how often they'll use the field, what lines they will need, and whether or not they want to paint the field or have the markings for their sport inlaid," she explained.
"With that information, your synthetic turf manufacturer can develop a rendering for your field. The rendering can help with fundraising efforts as well," she added.
Another suggestion is to make a list of all of the sports the field will host, and at what level they will be played (high school, college, etc.).
"You will need to be aware of the field dimensions required by each sport as written in the current rules from the national governing body," noted Mary Helen Sprecher, a technical writer for the ASBA.