Feature Article - February 2016
Find a printable version here

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Know Your Goals to Design Effective Sports Fields

By Deborah L. Vence

The Ideal Turf

When it comes to turf, experts concurred that there really is no ideal type because the best type depends on your location.

Brusius said he believes that both natural and synthetic turf have their place.

When it comes to turf, experts concurred that there really is no ideal type because the best type depends on your location.

"I'm talking from the perspective of a sports turf manager. A coach will want the natural grass, but if you talk to a recreation department, they will want more synthetic [turf], [for] more revenue, and [the ability to] schedule a lot more frequently," he said. "Initial cost is more to build a synthetic field, but there is a need for both."

The time of year plays a role, too.

"Warm season vs. cool season; and there are different varieties of grasses," Brusius said. "[In the] warm season Bermuda is the typical athletic field variety; and, in the cool season Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. And the reason for Bermuda and Kentucky is that they have aggressive growth and recover better than other types of grasses. We use perennial rye because it germinates quickly."

At the SoccerPlex, there are 19 natural grass fields, 11 being cool season and eight being Bermuda (which are seen more in the summer). "There is really no perfect answer. You have to plan for that," Bjorn said, adding that different use types have different advantages.

Stahlbaum added that when it comes to synthetic fields, a blend of various fiber types is integral to balancing the playability and usage requirements of various user groups.

"Monofilament face fibers are extruded through a spinneret like spaghetti as single strands," she said. "Mono fibers provide excellent aesthetics and a slower, more realistic ball roll for soccer. On the other hand, slit film fibers are extruded in a sheet and literally slit in a parallel fashion, creating bundles of fibers that break up or 'fibrillate' into smaller fibers during installation and with use. Slit film fibers are highly durable and, therefore, a good investment for facilities with multiple uses."

By incorporating both monofilament and slit film fibers, blended fields deliver a variety of benefits that serve all user groups, which is why more than 60 percent of Stahlbaum's company's 2015 fields were comprised of blended fibers.

A newer development in synthetic turf fields is a system that provides a "thatch layer" to the turf system. Essentially, Stahlbaum said, this is "… a system of crimped fibers that pulls down below the face fibers." This system helps stabilize the infill, acting "… like a net to help keep the infill in place, preventing its migration and compaction," she added. "By keeping infill in place, players of all sports benefit from more consistent footing, optimal traction, more predictable shock absorption, and even wear patterns."

Getting the Most Out of Your Fields

How do you get the most out of your sports fields?

"For me, as a grounds director, I'm trying to find that balance on maximizing revenue and keeping up quality, whether shifting fields is a huge part of that, using the entire surface and not beating down the same areas over and over," Bjorn said.

He also suggested that you not overfertilize, either. You have to balance everything out correctly with irrigation. "It's a whole package that you really need to focus on to get the most out of your fields," he said.

For Brusius, field rotation is one of the number-one priorities.

"On any given week, we have 14 fields, and not all of them are always used. So, we always take out the worst field and put another field in, and that helps us," Brusius said. "We have an aggressive cultural practice program, a strong overseeding practice, a sound nutrient schedule, fertilizing appropriately, a budget that is in line with expectations and field usage, and a staff that abides by a maintenance plan."

Both Catella and Sprecher said regular maintenance is essential to getting the most out of your field.

"In order to get the most out of your fields, regular maintenance, targeted maintenance, is essential to get the most out of your field," Catella said.

Sprecher suggested walking the field routinely (at least once a week, but more often if the field is seeing the use that multiple sports will bring), and looking for irregularities, damage and litter.

Catella noted, too, that when you have football, lacrosse, soccer and field hockey, you will have different areas for goal creases and high-wear areas, things that are going to have more abuse.

"Is synthetic better with all those sports? We build both. Most build both. Certainly, each has its strong and weak points. The key with a multi-use, natural grass field is can it get recuperation time?" he said.

When it comes to synthetic turf, a common misperception is that it's maintenance-free.

"This erroneous belief can diminish the lifecycle of a synthetic turf field. Just like cars, artificial turf fields need maintenance," Stahlbaum said.

Fields should be kept as clean as possible. Sweeping the field (usually once a week) with a turf sweeper helps pick up leaves, trash and other debris.

"As you use the field more, you should groom more deeply and more frequently. To prolong the life of the field, you'll want to keep infill levels as even as possible and turf fibers as upright as possible," she said. "Drag-behind attachments with brushes help to redistribute infill and lightly massage fibers."

For very high-use fields, Stahlbaum's company recommends deep cleaning once or twice per year.

"This involves a more thorough regimen with more aggressive machinery capable of cycling and filtering infill, as well as infill decompaction if necessary to provide superior shock absorption," she said.

"You should ensure that your turf provider trains staff on routine maintenance practices," she added. "Hiring professionals to perform the deeper grooming activities is a great idea, too."