DIGGING IN

  • All field maintenance starts from the ground up. Determine the basics of how your fields are constructed to better understand how they’ll perform and what will be required to maintain them.
  • Construction details often vary with multiple fields, whether they’re at different sites or within a single-site complex.
  • If you’ve not already done so, develop an accurate map of all the field and landscape spaces you manage. If “as-built” records are available, use them to plot out the subsurface details of construction, including in-ground drainage systems, in-ground irrigation and the soil profile of each field area.
  • Without “as-builts,” develop these details as accurately as possible and keep adapting them as you gain new information.

This cool-season turfgrass soccer field is a bit longer than the “sweet spot,” slowing ball roll and causing players’ shoes to sink into the grass.

FIELD DIMENSIONS AND MARKINGS

  • Soccer is played on rectangular fields, but the dimensions and markings vary based on the age and/or skill level of the athletes.
  • Field dimensions at some levels of play are specified by minimum and maximum length established by the soccer governing bodies.
  • FIFA is the world governing body of soccer. The acronym stands for Federation Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Association Football (in English).
  • The United States Soccer Federation, commonly referred to as U.S. Soccer, is the official governing body of U.S. amateur and professional soccer, including the men’s, women’s, youth, beach soccer, futsal and Paralympic national teams. Headquartered in Chicago, U.S. Soccer is a FIFA member.
  • As specified by FIFA rules, the standard length of a football (soccer) field should be between 100 and 131 yards with a width between 49 and 100 yards. (These dimensions change for international matches.)
  • Smaller fields are used for players under age 13. U.S. Soccer has announced it will soon standardize small-sided game participation and field size based on player age groups, while also aligning birth-year registration calendars with the start of the calendar year, running from January to December. This standardization will be mandated by August. Specific information is available on this standards chart.
  • These variations in field dimensions are essential information for field managers that have the space and flexibility to adjust the layout of their fields by number and size to fit the needs of their field user groups.
  • Soccer field markings are equally specific. Measurements are taken from outside to outside of the line. The center line, center mark and center circle, goal area, goal box, penalty area, penalty arc, corner arcs and technical area all have specified placement and dimensions. All marking lines must be the same width, no more than 5 inches.
  • At the high school level, when a soccer field is laid out over an existing football field, the portable goals should be anchored at least 2 yards in front of the base of the existing football goalposts.
  • Field dimension and layout graphics are available on the internet from multiple sources — ranging from suppliers to associations — in formats that vary from basic to the information- packed version from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Moving soccer field sidelines during the playing season helps alleviate damage like this caused by the linesman’s repetitive movement.

SETTING STANDARDS

After researching the construction elements and determining the number and sizes of fields you’ll be maintaining, you can establish categories based on usage to develop targeted maintenance programs. Dr. Grady Miller, professor at North Carolina State University, suggests rankings such as championship, tournament and recreational or game, practice and class/recreation. Dr. Miller also recommends establishing yearly usage maximums for each category using the 2-4-6-8-10 Rule:

  • 200 hours or less — sustain good field conditions;
  • 400 – 600 hours — good field conditions with some thinning and localized wear;
  • 800 – 1,000 hours — fair field conditions; expect thinning and wear;
  • 1,000 hours or more — expect significant thinning, turf loss, surface damage and increased risk of athlete injury.

Fertilization is the top maintenance practice to deal with high-use soccer fields.

SOIL TESTS

  • Dr. Mike Goatley, professor at Virginia Tech, emphasizes the power of a soil test. He recommends comparing the costs and range of information each lab provides for the best match.
  • Get the basics: pH, the majors (phosphorus and potassium) and the minors. Add the salt index and cation exchange units — if those are beneficial to you — and nitrogen, if it’s available. Then put the information to work.

TURFGRASS SELECTION

  • Inventory the turfgrasses on your existing fields by species (such as bermudagrass or Kentucky bluegrass) and cultivar (such as Tifway 419). Note quality and density and record the data on your field map.
  • Use a 12-month calendar to plot your field use schedules and compare your turfgrass growth cycles to those dates. You’ll want to match active growth with field use as closely as possible.
  • Whether you’re in the cool-season, warm-season, or transition zone, there are promising new grasses to consider. Follow the regional National Turfgrass Evaluation Program trials and work with your seed and/or sod supplier to determine the characteristics you’d like to improve — typically density, wear resistance and recovery — and attributes such as drought tolerance, disease resistance, heat or cold tolerance and early green-up.
  • Dr. Goatley recommends buying the best quality seed in seeded varieties and considering the purity and germination rate.
  • You can overseed or sprig vegetative varieties to introduce attributes. Determine the number of plants a specific area will support and base the overseeding or sprigging rate on that. Goatley suggests introducing the fastest growing grasses into your high wear areas, such as goalmouths, and “seed banking” by continuing to overseed.
  • Speed the growth even more by mixing pregerminated seed with sand and letting the players cleat it in.

Portable goals can be moved around to different areas of the field for practices, alleviating wear.

TARGET FERTILIZATION

  • Fertilization is the top maintenance practice to deal with high-usage fields.
  • Plan to fertilize all fields every four to six weeks during the growing season at the rate 0.75-1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, with timing applications coinciding with field use schedules and environmental conditions.
  • Allocate additional fertilization for heavy-use areas, making applications as needed to maintain density.

MANAGE MOWING

  • Dr. Miller’s mowing recommendations start with selecting mowers best suited to your turfgrasses in the best quality you can afford, setting them up correctly and maintaining them properly.
  • Review the annual growth patterns of your turfgrass and determine the sweet spot for the height of cut (HOC) that provides the best wear tolerance and density.
  • The HOC will determine your mowing frequency, as you’ll want to remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade.
  • Control the speed on all mowers, especially on the turns, Miller cautions. Hitting the right pace improves the quality of cut.

COMBAT WEAR

  • Restrict field use when the soil is too wet. (Dr. Miller suggests using a soil moisture meter to establish a cut-off point — above that point, the field is too wet to use.)
  • Restrict use when the soil is very dry and the turfgrass is wilted.
  • Schedule regular rest times to repair minor damage.
  • Don’t allow unofficial play.
  • If possible, move soccer field sidelines during the year to alleviate wear caused by linesmen.
  • Use spot aeration to alleviate compaction and increase air and water movement into the soil.
  • Follow Best Management Practices (BMP) to control weeds, insects and diseases.
  • Keep records of all applications, cultural practices and wear reduction actions.
  • Encourage coaches to rotate drills to different areas of the field during practices, use portable goals (moving them often) and limit practice time on your actual game field.