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Play on: How to get the most out of your sports field with artificial turf

October 11, 2017

Artificial turf fields can improve safety, simplify maintenance, and enhance athlete performance

Whether they’re owned by schools, municipalities, or private clubs, sports fields are valuable community hubs. Sports facilities do more than serve a functional purpose. They contribute to the positive qualities of the communities they serve, supporting broader environmental, economic, and social goals.

If you own or manage a sports field, you also face complex challenges, namely, maintaining the performance and safety of your field in various climatic conditions—and covering the costs to do so. Depending on your budget, performance requirements, and programming needs, artificial turf could be the answer for your sports field.

The new artificial turf field at Thunder Bay, Ontario's St. Patrick High School offers more athletic opportunities compared to the previous natural turf field.

In Thunder Bay, Ontario, we’re about to celebrate the grand opening of two new artificial turf fields for the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board (TBCDSB) that are designed to meet FIFA Quality standards. FIFA Quality sets the bar, with stringent performance and safety standards for artificial turf fields. Previously, these two fields used natural turf. Because Thunder Bay is a northern community with a varying, and sometimes harsh, climate, these natural fields presented the school board with a significant maintenance challenge. With sports teams using the fields late into the fall season and early in the spring season, the natural turf could never recover from the abuse it suffered during wet-season use. Ultimately, play quality, safety, and the ability for athletes to practice their craft were jeopardized.

Artificial turf was the solution.

St. Patrick High School's athletic field features artificial turn, which will extend the usefulness of the field. 

Natural vs. Artificial

Artificial turf fields have many advantages over natural turf fields. Artificial fields don’t require water, pesticides and fertilizers, or practices such as aeration and over-seeding. They do, however, like natural turf, require a weekly “mowing” in the form of a drag-behind groomer that redistributes displaced infill and maintains the turf fibers in a vertical position.

Let it rain

Because artificial turf fields are not living entities, heat, drought, or rainfall does not affect them. Not only does artificial turf allow a field to be used earlier in the spring and later in the fall, they never suffer damage from use during rain events, are never closed due to wet weather, and allow almost unlimited programming hours. These were very important characteristics that answered the two main challenges faced by the TBCDSB—weather and hours of use.

Extended use

Artificial turf also increases a field’s available hours of use. The typical maximum hours of use for a natural turf field is 20 hours a week for only four consecutive days before the turf requires a couple of days of recovery time. But because artificial turf doesn’t require a recovery period, field use is only limited by available daylight or by lighting laws. For a school that has physical education classes during the day and varsity sports in the evening, the almost unlimited programming ability of artificial turf is a perfect solution.

Benefits to athletes

Aside from the extended use that artificial turf fields bring, they also help to develop and elevate the skills of the athletes. With artificial turf, there is never a worry that the ball will find field irregularities or uneven ground when players are passing to teammates. The surface is smooth and consistent, allowing athletes to focus on the development of the fine skills required to excel at sport and not worry about the adverse effects of poorly maintained playing surfaces. The development of athletic performance isn’t inhibited by playing conditions.

Safety first

The consistency of the field also increases the safety of the playing surface compared to many natural turf fields. Natural turf fields, when maintained professionally, do have excellent performance and safety characteristics. However, to maintain the performance and safety standard of natural turf to the level provided by artificial turf requires training and expertise in turf grass management and significant yearly maintenance budgets. Artificial turf fields provide a consistent playing surface without hard areas, wet areas, uneven surfaces, or areas devoid of turf coverage. In the case of the TBCDCSB, we used a shockpad, a synthetic foam layer that absorbs impact, beneath the turf to provide a superior, consistent surface.

No matter where you are located geographically, artificial turf fields can provide the safety and performance that athletes deserve. Every field owner and operator should investigate the feasibility of the implementation of an artificial turf field with the help of an experienced professional to determine if artificial turf is the right fit. And to athletes: Get out and enjoy the benefits the artificial turf field brings to you, your community, and your sport!

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