Plan ahead to prevent problems

On-field activity is most easily controlled at facilities where fields are enclosed within secured stadiums or fenced with locked gates, but incidences of field damage and inappropriate action by unruly crowds can occur at any field.

When fields are open for public use, the control issue is even more important. Administrative and/or athletic departments will generally be the overriding authorities on field use. Security departments and on-site security personnel usually are in charge of crowd control, but the results of inappropriate action all too often affect the sports field management and maintenance department as much, or more, than those officially in charge. The best solutions are reached when all of the departments work together in conjunction with legal advisors to establish the rules and regulations—and to see that they are enforced.

Rules and regulations

Identify potential problems and ban them in black and white. Consider not only what has happened in the past, but also what might happen in the future. Group problems by categories such as those related to field damage; damage and wear to areas surrounding the fields and facilities; game interruption; athlete, coach and official safety; and spectator safety.

Clearly note if fields will be used only for organized activities for which permits must be issued. If fields are open for practices or pick up games, establish a system for clearing that activity from the fields when scheduled groups arrive. Determine what activities will not be allowed on the fields, and include those restrictions in all field use permit forms and in on-site signage. If you establish different restrictions for synthetic surfaced fields than for natural grass fields, make sure those differences are stated clearly.  

Establish policies for participant and spectator safety during weather-related incidents.

Consider establishing designated bench areas for the coaches and players of each sport as part of your rules and regulations documents. Think about what could be involved for the sports field manager in establishing those designated areas. You wouldn’t want to specify “marked areas” for the multiuse fields of recreational facilities and schools that serve several levels of players because of all the painting that would require. A better choice might be: coaches and players must remain in the bench area keeping a minimum of 5 yards from the sideline. Coaches are permitted to move along the sideline on their designated bench side from midfield to quarter-field as long as they maintain the 5-yard distance.

Clearly define the referee or umpire’s authority to do their job, including the ability to eject a player, coach or spectator for unsportsmanlike conduct. Depending on the layout of the facility and the age level of the players, you may want to include wording that the ejected person must leave the site prior to restarting the game.

Parents and kids with coolers, balls and other items gather along the sidelines. Spectators are spread out next to the backstop, a potentially dangerous situation. Note the chairs, table, food and drink items and the obvious lack of concern for trash control.

Some facilities include a zero-tolerance policy against players, coaches and fans complaining or arguing with the officials. While it’s important to protect all involved, any zero-tolerance policy is only effective if consistently enforced. So, consider what you’re trying to accomplish and your resources for enforcement before setting your policies.

Competitive sports, even at youth levels, have sometimes sparked emotional exchanges among the participants and spectators that have escalated to physical confrontations and, at times, even involved the use of weapons. Include some provision for ejection of players, coaches or spectators for verbal or physical threats, or physical actions against facility personnel, as well as players, coaches, spectators and officials. Consider adding a statement that participants and spectators are required to cooperate in providing identification and assistance in identifying individuals who may have been involved in incidents and including some provision for punitive action should they fail to comply.

Fan-friendly rules

Many components of crowd control can be accomplished by simply letting people know what you want them to do. Mark permanent entrance and exit routes clearly. Use signage along with bright plastic cones or stanchions and plastic chains or yellow tape to indicate temporary pathways. Place trash containers in convenient locations and empty them periodically during events. If smoking is allowed on the complex, clearly mark designated smoking areas. If you periodically rotate fields, move sidelines and switch sidelines between bench areas and spectator areas, devise a system that guides people to the new locations.

Other objectives will be harder to accomplish when dealing with spectators. Determine what you can tolerate both in terms of distractions for those participating in the games and in terms of wear and tear on the turf areas surrounding the fields and on other facility amenities. Then, decide how to establish rules to accomplish it. Avoid rules that are too general, such as: “All children must be accompanied by an adult and should be supervised in a responsible manner.”

Establishing rules for spectators in stadiums and bleachers is relatively easy. Just determine what can and cannot be carried into the seating area and how the checkpoint for compliance will be handled.

Setting rules for ground-level seating along the sidelines of multiuse fields is harder. Must spectators keep 5 yards (or some other designated distance) back from the sideline? Will specific areas be off-limits, such as behind the goals of soccer fields? Decide what type of chairs spectators may use and whether they’ll be allowed to set up tents or large umbrellas. Consider whether pets should be permitted and whether spectators should be allowed to bring in their own food and beverages.

Get the word out

Once established, the rules and regulations can be printed and issued to participating athletes, teams, leagues, students and parents, booster clubs and other potential field user and spectator groups. They should be posted on the facility’s Web site. They should be included in field use permit documentation, and field users should be required to acknowledge by signature that they have read them and will comply with them. In these situations, use the complete, detailed versions. Include the contact information for the appropriate authorities if individuals have questions or wish to challenge specific items.

Post a condensed version of the rules and regulations on-site in a highly visible location. Include a final line such as: “Posted rules and verbal instructions issued by supervisory personnel must be followed. Failure to comply may result in ejection from the premises.”

Many families spend much of their week around sports fields as some family members participate in practices or games while other family members watch. In some cases, the spectators’ traffic and actions are a greater factor in turf wear than the athletes playing on the fields. With the proper rules and regulations in place, acknowledged by all concerned and consistently enforced, these events can be a great source of exercise and entertainment without unduly stressing recreational resources or field care personnel.

To contact the author, e-mail stevetrusty@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com