Thatch layer in synthetic turf for stability

There is a lot of information available about synthetic turf fields, but it can be difficult to discern between marketing speak and research-driven facts. Sports Turf Company has been in the business of athletic construction for 26 years. We build running tracks, native and full underdrain natural grass fields, synthetic turf fields and everything in between. We pioneered many of the best practices in constructing synthetic fields. Recognized by American Sports Builders Association to have four Certified Field Builders and two Certified Track Builders on staff, we are among the Southeast’s foremost experts in specialty field and track construction.

Needs assessment

Conversion of natural grass fields to synthetic turf may be the best choice depending on many factors. Making the right decision the first time is key to good fiscal management and raising the bar for athlete safety. Start with a needs assessment:

  • What sports will be played on the field?
  • Will it be used for practice and games?
  • Will the community share the field for rec league play?
  • Who is responsible for field maintenance?
  • Do you have issues with field drainage and rainouts?
  • Rank the importance of safety, cost, durability, playability, and visual appeal.

Evolution in safety

AstroTurf originally created artificial turf in 1965 and by the 1990’s synthetic turf evolved to include sand and rubber particles in sparsely tufted polyethylene fibers. This change meant the game was now played on the rubber infill with the fibers relegated to only serving a role as a grass lookalike. These systems offered more cushion, but have shown to result in more lower extremity injuries.

When you see black rubber spray out every time a player cuts on the field, it means that game is played on 1990’s technology. Cleats sink into the older, high-rubber fields.

Modern, 4th generation fields incorporate a thatch layer to hold the sand and rubber infill in place. That means footing is more consistent across the entire field and allows athletes to pivot like on a well-maintained natural grass field.

Pads becoming more important

Gmax measures the force reduction of a field. A lower Gmax reduces the likelihood of an athlete receiving a concussion from impact with the field. A Gmax reading above 200 means life threatening head injuries may occur. By comparison, a well-maintained natural grass field may have a Gmax of around 85.

Brock USA is at the forefront of testing and design of pad systems to improve safety of synthetic turf fields. By adding a Brock pad underneath, Gmax readings stay much closer to natural grass fields. Field systems over a pad are firmer for faster play, reduce incidence of concussions and ankle/leg injuries.

So what can you do as a parent, a coach or a young athlete? Ask what turf systems are being considered by your school or park. Advocate for systems that have more fiber and less rubber. Invite experts to speak to stakeholders about safety. Read and compare warranties. Research manufacturers on Google for product histories and performance.

This article was written by a representative of Sports Turf Company, Inc. Aaron McWhorter, the company president, opened shop in 1991 with a mission to provide quality athletic facility construction services.