When referring to multitasking, the saying used to be “walking and chewing gum at the same time.” These days, walking and texting might be a better example. For the sports field, though, multitasking means hosting everything from soccer to lacrosse, from football to field hockey, and a lot more.

The phenomenon of a field serving double duty (and often more than double) is the result of several factors:

  • communities become increasingly landlocked;
  • sites for projects become ever more costly and hard to find; and
  • the increasing number of sports being run across one or more fields throughout the course of one season

School officials who previously shied away from investing in synthetic turf facilities are becoming more cognizant of their benefits, particularly with regard to hosting multiple sports. Without the worry that a field will become skinned from overuse or that a rain event will cause unpredictable delay, school officials and municipalities have more control over scheduling and increased ability to depend on field conditions. Justifying the additional expense of a synthetic field becomes easier if the school, municipality or other entity will be able to collect fees for the use of the field from multiple parties.

However, putting in a multiuse field isn’t as easy as simply making a schedule. The true multiple-sport field requires specific design and planning, and that starts back at square one.

Multisport fields like the athletic complex at Homestead High School in Cupertino, California, are becoming more prevalent.
TOP PHOTOS COURTESY OF VERDE DESIGN

Field size

The first aspect of design and planning is to make a list of which sports will be hosted at the facility. A true multiuse field must be built to the standards of the governing body for the sport(s) requiring the largest possible space. For example, if a field will host football (which has a standard length of 360 feet and a standard width of 160 feet), as well as field hockey (300 feet long and 180 feet wide), the field must be, as a minimum, large enough to satisfy the standard length for football and the standard width for hockey. Note: Dimensions are set by the governing bodies for sports at various levels; always check to make sure you are working with the most up-to-date set of rules prior to the design phase.

An essential aspect of planning is incorporating a safety zone beyond the largest field playing dimensions. This safety zone dimension will vary depending on the sport, what the outer edge is (i.e., a building, wall, fence, landscaping, etc.), and the need for areas that will be occupied by teams and officials. Note that a multiuse field may sacrifice aesthetics in the interest of accommodating more activities. For example, bleachers that have been set up with proper clearances for soccer may be set farther back from the edge of the football field than spectators might like.

Will your field include a track? Make sure that facility is in compliance with the governing body at the level of competition you want to host. Several different track configurations may be possible, given the design of the field, but should meet the standards set forth.

Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut, boasts some of the finest athletic field facilities in New England prep schools.
BOTTOM PHOTO COURTESY OF HUNTRESS ASSOCIATES.

Lines and markings

For all its advantages, synthetic turf provides a formidable challenge when it comes to marketing for various sports. While natural grass fields can be marked with temporary lines or paint and changed for various sports, many synthetic fields lack this flexibility.

The challenge facing the field owner is first to decide which sports will be hosted, and which should take priority. For example, is soccer the most popular sport, or is it football? What about lacrosse and field hockey? Make a numbered list of sports, and another showing which ones you feel are the facility’s primary purpose. Input from all users is critical for success.

Synthetic turf builders can inlay lines when turf is installed; in general, the brightest colors can be used for primary sports, with darker colors for additional sports. For example, one field might have white lines for football and yellow for soccer or lacrosse, while lines for other sports might be made in navy or silver. The goal is for players and officials to have a clear sense of the boundaries at all times. Many national governing bodies specify the line colors for their sport; this needs to be taken into consideration during the planning process.

Temporary paints for synthetic turf are available; however, it is essential to follow the manufacturer recommendations with respect to paint choices to prevent any damage to the surface or impact on warranty. It’s also imperative to learn and follow instructions for removal of the paint, and to consider whether there is time to correctly remove paint between games on the schedule.

Another option is to use small squares, also called “ticks,” on the field to denote certain distances for a respective sport’s lines, and then paint those lines on in season. This practice eliminates having multiple sets of permanent lines.

According to manufacturers, designers and builders, athletes adapt more easily to the presence of multiple playing lines than spectators do.

Equipment

Portable goals, corner flags and other equipment are popular at multiuse facilities. Posts can be set in sleeves, or can simply be picked up and moved as the occasion demands. Make sure goals remain anchored in their proper location, and that players, fans and others are not allowed to climb on them or swing from them.

Play characteristics

While synthetic sports fields can be designed and built with a specific sport in mind – for example, a GMax rating would be essential to a football field, and FIFA standards for ball roll and bounce would play into the design of a soccer-plex – a multisport field will serve many purposes, and as such needs to provide a safe playing surface with uniform results for all athletes. Those who are looking into adding a synthetic field should work with the manufacturer and builder to provide all the information on the sports that will be hosted in order to have the best possible outcome.

As the use of multisport fields becomes increasingly prevalent, we can expect this to be a continuing subject of conversation in the sports community.

Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction.