Digging In

  • If you haven’t done so already, dig into the basics of each field’s subsurface construction, mapping out in-ground drainage and irrigation systems and recording the makeup and depth of the soil profile, including any variations within a field. These details give you the background to better understand how the field will perform so maintenance practices can be adjusted throughout the season.
  • Identify the types of turfgrass on each field, the percentage of turfgrass cover and the turfgrass quality rating across the entire playing surface and in the player/ coach/press areas surrounding each field. Record this data on a separate field diagram on a tablet, computer or paper. Ideally, you’ll do this prior to the first field use of the season and repeat it weekly.
  • Stress, wear and damage patterns will develop as the season progresses that will help you adjust maintenance practices and — hopefully — convince coaches to shift practice drill locations, if needed.
  • For synthetic fields, assess fiber quality across the same areas and take infill depth measurements in heavy-use areas: between the hash marks; between the 20-yard lines and goal lines; along the goal lines; along the sidelines; and within the coaches’ area and team boxes. Repeat this at regular intervals and, because infill migrates away as traffic increases, make adjustments to infill depth as required for consistency.
  • Players often hold their positions, gain momentum, make sharp cuts and increase push-back power by digging their cleats deep into the turfgrass. They make sudden starts, stops and turns. And the majority of the plays end with a pile of players digging in, struggling to make — or to stop —forward momentum.
  • Maintenance strategies need to be focused on helping the soil profile and turfgrass team up to support this heavy activity while also providing consistent surfaces for playability and, most importantly, athlete safety.

Some youth football programs opt to alter field dimensions for younger players and will provide you the details for their preferred set up. Dimensions and marking requirements for flag football fields also are available.

Dimensions and Markings

  • Always check the official field layout specifications as provided by the correct governing body for the level of play you host. This information can be readily found on the internet from a variety sources.
  • U.S. football fields are rectangular with the same outside dimensions for high school/junior high, college and professional play. The total width is 53.33 yards (160 feet). The total length is 120 yards (360 feet), which includes the 100-yard (300 feet) playing field with a 10-yard (30 feet) end zone on each end.
  • The goal lines (at each end of the 100-yard field) and end lines (at the back of each end zone) extend the entire width of the field. They touch the sidelines, which extend the entire length of the field, and the end zones. A 6-foot end line border marks the back of the end zone.
  • Paint the goal lines and end lines, and place pylons at each end of the goal line and end line to mark those corner spots.
  • Paint a restraining line 6 feet outside the sideline, designating the closest distance nonplayers can be to the field. The team bench goes on the restraining line.
  • Mark off the team box, along and behind the restraining line, and extending from 30-yard line to 30-yard line. The coaches’ box covers the same distance, extending from the restraining line to the sideline.
  • Paint yard lines to mark each 5-yard interval between the goal lines and paint 2-foot long end lines to mark each 1-yard interval within those yard lines. Leave a 4-inch gap between the beginning of the end lines and the yard lines and sidelines.
  • Differences between field markings for the different levels of play begin with the numbers. They’re the same size (6 feet high and 4 feet wide) and placed at 10-yard intervals, starting at the 10-yard line and extending to the 50-yard line; and always facing the sideline.
  • For professional football, the bottom of each number is 12 yards from the sideline; for college and high school/ junior high, the top of each number should be 9 yards from the sideline.
  • High school/middle school goal post widths are 23 feet 4 inches; professional and college goal post widths are 18 feet 6 inches.
  • Hash marks are lines that are 2-feet long and spaced 1 yard apart between the yard lines. They’re used to mark each down when the ball is between the yard lines.
  • Professional hash marks are placed 18 feet 6 inches apart and line up with the uprights of the goal posts. The outside edge of each of these hash marks begins 70 feet 9 inches from the nearest sideline.
  • For college fields, the hash marks are 40 feet apart, with the outside edge of each hash mark beginning 60 feet from the nearest sideline.
  • On high school/junior high fields, the hash marks divide the field width into thirds and are 53 feet 4 inches apart. The outside edge of each hash mark is 53 feet 4 inches from the nearest sideline.
  • Regulations stipulate that sidelines, end lines, hash marks, yard markers and yard line numbers be white in color and at least 4-inches wide.

Manage Mowing

  • Keep mower blades sharp. Determine your most effective height of cut for wear tolerance and density and never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade in a single mowing.
  • Striping the field by mowing each 5-yard section in alternate directions has become an unwritten rule at all levels of play. Change the direction you mow those sections with each mowing.
  • If possible, mow the field from end zone to end zone early in the week while the grass is actively growing. Control your mower speed, especially on those frequent turns.

Combat Wear

  • Spot slice aerate in high-traffic areas to alleviate compaction and increase air and water movement into the soil without disrupting the soil surface.
  • Keep complete records of all insect/weed control applications and cultural practices.

Keeping Turfgrass Cover

  • In some warm-season turfgrass regions, temperatures allow growth through nearly all the playing season. Overseed the seeded varieties and sprig the vegetative varieties where needed to build up density in high-traffic zones and fill in any thin spots.
  • In the transition zone, time overseeding of warm-season grasses with cool-season grasses to keep actively-growing grasses on the field late in the season.
  • Overseed cool-season grasses as turf wear demands, even though active growth has stopped. Seed that doesn’t germinate this fall will be in place to start growth when the soil warms in the spring.
  • To speed regrowth, mix pregerminated seed with sand to use for high-wear area overseeding and half-time divot repair. Let the players cleat it in.
  • Consider sodding in high-traffic areas. Plan for that option, as your peers do for their NFL or high-profile collegiate fields. Use your local sod producer as a resource.

Manage Nongame Use

  • Be patient but persistent in explaining the basis of your requests — less nongame field use in high-traffic areas results in better field conditions for games.
  • With fixed goal posts, you have fixed areas of play — without the field-shifting options of soccer.
  • Work with your coaches and/or user groups to rotate drills to different areas of the field during practices. Use your turfgrass tracking data to show why this rotation is needed.
  • Limit practice time on the game field.
  • Football games are rarely canceled because of bad weather, unless player or spectator safety becomes an issue. Typically, deteriorating weather conditions toward the end of the season hamper or stop turf growth. Work with coaches to restrict on-field practices when the soil is too wet.
  • Don’t allow unofficial play.
  • If at all possible, give the band their own turfgrass area, painting an open area with the basics they need to perform their routines. It’s a win for the band and the game field.