By John Kmitta
STMA classifies the “sporting grounds” category as fields for “non-mainstream” sports (i.e., anything outside the “Big 4” of football, baseball, soccer and softball). However, in recent years, sports in the sporting grounds category – especially lacrosse, rugby and field hockey – have all seen growth in popularity in the United States. And while many of these “non-mainstream” sports are still played on multi-purpose fields, there are some very specific field maintenance considerations.
“The type of grass, season in which the sport is played, and how the sport is played, changes how it is maintained,” said Brian Dossett, CSFM, head turf manager, Oxner Landscape, which manages Christ Church Episcopal School, Greenville, S.C. (winner of the STMA 2019 Sporting Grounds Field of the Year award at the schools and parks level). “For example, we have a field that is used for field hockey in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. Before lacrosse was added, this field was never overseeded and required little extra attention after the season or in the spring to have great recovery from the previous field hockey season. Now that lacrosse also uses the field, overseeding is a must, and a lot of attention is given after lacrosse season to ensure great recovery.”
According to Scott Thompson, CSFM, director of landscape services at Duke University (winner of the STMA 2019 Sporting Grounds Field of the Year award at the College and University level), the biggest challenge is having one facility meet the needs of different sports in different seasons.
“For us, men’s and women’s soccer have similar needs. The field has the same dimensions and the demands on the field are generally the same,” said Thompson. “Where it starts to get challenging is during the lacrosse season where we have men’s and women’s lacrosse, which have different needs. Ultimately, it is a different style of play. The fields have different dimensions, and often that can make for challenging management strategies. With different styles of play and field dimensions we have to monitor the field closely to ensure the wear and traffic of one sport doesn’t adversely affect the field playability for the other sport.”
Thompson added that field stability and footing are paramount for all sports.
“Things like ball roll and surface smoothness are keenly important in the game of soccer but much less so for the game of lacrosse,” said Thompson. “We often have to mitigate any surface smoothness issues around the attack and scoring areas for lacrosse so they don’t adversely affect ball roll for soccer in their penalty and scoring areas.
“Typically we are playing soccer on bermudagrass and immature ryegrass,” Thomson added. “We then have a couple of months to prepare and adjust to playing lacrosse on a ryegrass field as our bermudagrass is dormant. Conversely, we have the summer months to transition our ryegrass field back to bermudagrass ahead of soccer season. The downtime between seasons provides us enough time to repair any issues and make adjustments prior to the next season.”
Thompson said his biggest challenge this year is playing all four sports on one field during the same season.
“This year the biggest thing we have to do is to take it one game at a time – meet the needs of the sport being played, and then, after the game, make the appropriate adjustments to meet the needs of the next event,” he said.
According to Dossett, the biggest challenge he faces is maintaining the goal creases on lacrosse fields.
“The goal is not very wide therefore the goalie wears this area badly,” said Dossett. “Also there is so much activity around these areas from other players either trying to score or help defend the goal. We approach this challenge in various ways. One is to move the goals during practice to an area that doesn’t see as much action during games. Constant moving of goals is a must. We re-seed these areas as we can, and sometimes even cut thick sod from the extreme out-of-play edges of the overseeded field to replace the area in front of the goals.”
Mark Heinlein, MSc, CFB, director of technical projects and research at The Motz Group, and chairman of the American Sports Builders Association, agrees that managing extreme wear areas, such as the goal crease in lacrosse, is the biggest challenge to maintaining fields in the sporting grounds category.
“That goalie sits in a 6-foot circle,” said Heinlein. “You think about a soccer goal, at 24-feet wide, the goalie is running around that area and it gets worn down. Then you compress that down, and that is the lacrosse crease. So it is a significant issue from a maintenance standpoint.”
Heinlein added that field hockey is almost always played on synthetic turf, because of requirements for ball/surface interaction and player/surface interaction. If played on a natural grass surface, field hockey requires a much different approach to field maintenance than other sports.
“While lacrosse has typically been a sport that is played on a multi-purpose field that hosts other sports like soccer or football, we are seeing more lacrosse-specific venues installed at the college level,” said Patrick Maguire, RLA, president and managing principal of Activitas. “This is also true of rugby, which has seen an uptick in popularity, even at the high school level. Since it is by far the largest of all fields, we are seeing more and more rugby-specific venues, many funded by the generous donations of former rugby alumni. Since the advent of infilled turf taking over the major stadiums that used to be traditional short pile Astroturf, we have seen many field-hockey-specific venues installed over the past decade, and that trend has continued.”
Maguire added that the past few years have seen significant growth in field hockey at the high school and college levels.
When it comes to field design and construction, rugby and field hockey have international governing bodies that recognize the importance of field playing conditions, and athlete safety, said Megan Buczynski, P.E., LEED AP, principal civil engineer at Activitas.
“Field hockey at the higher levels is typically played on a short pile system with a watering system, and has very specific recommendations for resilience and ball roll,” said Buczynski. “Rugby, be it played on natural grass or synthetic turf, has guidelines that pay particular attention to safety and resilience with the goal of minimizing the potential for concussions. Checking in with these governing bodies while planning for a field is always a good idea.”
According to Maguire, the majority of new fields built in the last decade were synthetic, but natural grass fields are making a comeback.
“I think this is really a credit to the sports field managers who have done a great job of keeping conditions on grass fields as close to optimal as possible,” he said. “We’ve also seen a great deal more interest at the professional level in hybrid field technology, as well as vacuum and air exchange systems and under-soil heating systems. The number of venues that are also looking into augmenting sunlight with artificial lighting systems is growing substantially.”
According to Buczynski, the most common question Activitas receives when designing new fields is whether sports can be combined on a multi-purpose field.
“Designing for a multi-purpose field that wants to host soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, etc., is difficult because each sport craves a different type of surface to best support play,” she said. “Working with the owner to help him or her understand how the properties of a surface, whether it be natural or artificial, impact the sport is essential in assisting the owner with the final surface decision.”
John Kmitta is associate publisher and editorial brand director of SportsField Management magazine.