Managing Wear and Overuse
Association Guest Column: Sports Turf Managers Association
By Mike Andresen, CSFM
Utilize field audits and checklists. A pre-season audit allows you to evaluate conditions of your facility prior to the season. A periodic in-season audit lets you know how the season is progressing and how the facility is holding up to traffic. A post-season audit is a snapshot of how your facility withstood the barrage of overuse from a season's worth of play. Too many of us are guilty of bemoaning, "We host too many events." A series of audits allows you to quantify the impact that the busy schedule had on your entire facility over a year. It will allow you to prioritize changes and improvements, both for management practices and for purchasing.
Define one person to be the spokesperson for your fields, and put this person on your upper management team. I'm referring to the sports turf manager. If fields become unplayable or dangerous, activity at the facility grinds to a halt. Field managers are very passionate about their work, and their mission is to host high-quality competition all season long. Those games in October are just as important as the games in April, and the sports turf manager understands that. Hire a qualified person, and let them do their job.
Define windows of time when sports field management crews can execute important agronomic practices. Highly trafficked fields must at the very least be irrigated, aerified and fertilized. Often our recreation fields need supplemental seeding to ensure their safety for the long term. Your sports turf manager knows how to manage fields and can maximize any scheduled field downtime. Allow this professional to give the facility a fighting chance to survive a demanding schedule. A scheduled tuneup during the fall may be the difference between success or failure of the facility next year.
Set the bar high on the importance of your facilities. Instill a sense of community pride when the public comes to your facility. Control trash and horseplay by setting strict guidelines on what is allowed or can be carried into certain areas. Field areas are not the place to do anything but compete. When field or facility personnel have to spend time policing grounds, repairing broken signage or picking up trash, they are not doing jobs important to prolonging field life.
Have players warm up for their competitions off of the playing field. Buy portable goals or cones to allow players to warm up in secondary areas. Sell the philosophy that fields are special places reserved for games.
Do not allow soccer teams to practice or warm up in goal mouths for any reason. This highest of high-wear areas cannot tolerate needless traffic. Goal mouths should be treated like treasures.
Do not fall into a habit of practicing in the same area for a continued period of time, or on consecutive days. By adopting an important element of "cross-training," we can help keep practices fresh and energetic by changing field areas from day to day. Name your practice sites after world-class venues, such as MLS, MLB or NFL stadiums, and let your kids' imaginations run wild.
If practicing on competition fields, be sure that team or individual drills are always executed off of the playing field surface. Simply go to a team bench area or behind an end zone to do drill work, and protect the field from this intense, localized traffic. Define practice fields perpendicular to your playing field. Either have the sports turf manager paint these field lines in a contrasting color or use cones.
Invest in your facility and in your personnel. Having equipment that does not work or frustrated employees limits the potential of your facility. Identify and budget for professional development for key employees. The networking contacts they make with peers will make up for the expense. It will certainly lead to a more educated sports field crew and may lead to things such as group purchasing of products or services, and possibly even equipment sharing to fill in gaps where you have been unable to make the capital investment.
Managing wear on fields is challenging, but by empowering your sports turf manager to employ these strategies, you can extend your fields' playability, and help to protect your athletes from potential injuries caused by unsafe playing conditions.
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