Pity the poor soccer field. It takes a lot of use, and that use is expanding all the time. In addition to its sport-specific purpose, it often finds itself being asked to multi-task for everything from band practice to summer camps – and even these days, quidditch.
The fact that many fields across the nation are still made of natural grass means facility managers need to stay on top of their game in order to keep the fields looking good.
And the best action is the preventive kind.
There isn’t a magic bullet that can turn overused fields bright green. However, there is a way to show field owners what is being done for those fields.
Recordkeeping is essential to proper field management. For every field in your care, there should be a set of records, indicating the following areas of upkeep, treatment and results:
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
- Integrated Cultural Management (ICM)
- Best Management Practices (BMP)
All these require collection and recording of field conditions and treatment data. Ideally, all records are centrally located and can be accessed wirelessly from any location, should you need an answer quickly.
If you are creating a recordkeeping system from scratch, or improving upon an existing one, here are some pointers on how to go about it. Soccer fields, for example, that receive a lot of foot traffic, will require just as much intercession from field managers.
A good place to begin is inspection. Field managers should inspect fields on a regular basis, looking for player hazards such as rocks, glass or metal objects, unretracted sprinkler heads, holes or burrows caused by moles, snakes or other animals and similar hazards. Ideally, this should be done before each practice and before each game. (Yes, it sounds like a lot of time, but more time is spent regretting not doing it, should injury occur – and consequences can certainly arise as a result.)
The same type of inspection should be conducted after each use, so that any damage can be repaired as quickly as possible. As before, record any of the problems you noticed and the steps that were taken to address them. Be prepared to take photos of fields – as well as any ongoing problems – to help document your work.
Some field managers will develop their own data tracking systems. Others will use one of several resources developed by others.
The Sports Turf Managers Association has its own downloadable STMA Playing Conditions Index (PCI) and its Field Safety and Maintenance Checklist. Other documents are available from different sources, and some managers prefer to formulate their own.
Also, consider that, sometimes, some of the best anecdotal evidence about your fields comes from those who use it. Make sure all athletes, coaches and officials know you are receptive to their comments and suggestions. They may have noticed a problem, condition or change that you haven’t. By welcoming their input, you are expanding your oversight of the fields.
Soccer fields, despite the fact that their sport has a season, need year-round care to keep them in good form. Annual field care is far more complex a subject than can be properly discussed here; more details on any of these can be found in the publication, “Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual,” published by the American Sports Builders Association. A few quick excerpts from this publication are provided as guidelines; however, they are not meant to be an extensive set of instructions.
Good field records should include care given during the following periods:
- Spring green-up/preseason work
- The growing season/the playing season
- Specific unexpected maintenance, repairs and more that are done throughout the season.
- The regular types of work that should be tracked can include the following:
- Grass healthcare (addressing diseases, etc.)
- Thatch management
- Overseeding (and possibly using a growth blanket or a cover of straw, depending upon whether you’re in a warm-season or cool-season area)
Because soccer is a seasonal sport as well as a sport in which camps and clinics are offered throughout the offseason, fields may receive an extensive amount of use. Be realistic, as a natural field is subject to wear and tear.
Your records, as a result, should include notations of any rotations of fields; for example, if one field receives heavy use, it should be allowed to rest and recuperate, and for the grass to regrow, before it goes into hard use again. In addition, if any weather events have left fields soggy or even flooded, that should be noted as well. (It goes without saying that those fields should not be used until they are playable again.)
Soccer fields often find themselves the recipients of multiple uses by different teams in the same season. And as areas become increasingly land-locked, fields are called upon to host an ever-increasing number of activities. Keep open the lines of communication with your administration, your users and even your spectators, so that you are able to keep track of what is going on with your facilities.
Soccer may come around only once a year, but the field is there all year. With your help, it can be there for the long haul.
COVER PHOTO: ISTOCK