For Administrators

Responsibility and risk management

Administrators, including School Superintendents, Superintendents of Buildings and Grounds, Directors of Facilities, Facility Managers and Directors and Commissioners of Parks and Recreation, need to be aware of the safety issues associated with high-use sports fields and support management strategies to ensure safe fields for all users. Overuse of fields (image) especially under very wet or very dry conditions can injure turf density which is necessary for athlete performance (traction and footing) and safety.

Field condition

Are your fields maintained at a level that would minimize the likelihood of injury? “Duty of Care” is a legal obligation of an individual or organization to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeable harm others. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has published the Standard Guide for Maintaining Cool Season Turfgrasses on Athletic Fields which states the minimum maintenance requirements that grounds personnel should provide.

Be sure your school or facility is providing this basic level of care which is explained on this video by Frank Rossi, Cornell Turfgrass Extension Specialist.

Field safety factors

When the fields are overused, turf cover is minimal, bare soil is exposed and becomes slippery or when fields become too hard from compaction or when too dry, the possibility of injury increases.

Fields must function properly by providing firm footing for the athlete, resistance to tearing, resiliency or cushioning on impact and be able to recuperate quickly from injury.

Impact of overuse on field quality and safety

Situation High demand or Overused Fields Impacts to turf Results in
  • Want good quality playing field
  • Fit in all practices and games
  • Keep planned field use schedule no matter the field’s condition or if poor weather is predicted
  • Loss of turf cover
  • Exposure of soil (slippery when wet)
  • Increase in compaction (increased field hardness)
  • Increase in injury potential
  • Increase in cost of field repair
  • Given reasonable expectations and adequate labor, time, equipment and budget
  • Implement BMP that promote dense turf for safety and performance
  • Ability to adjust management program to address demand given current field and weather conditions
  • Determine if field is safe for use, close if necessary
  • Less long term damage to soil and turf cover
  • Less injury potential
  • More games or field use possible
  • Fewer resources needed to maintain the turf compared to partial or full renovation

Check for field hardness annually

Penn State study reported that a reduction of up to 20% in injuries could have been prevented or perhaps less severe by more favorable field conditions.

Surface hardness created by compaction due to over use can be measured in the unit called Gmax. The Gmax value is used to determine the degree of field hardness which can estimate the potential for serious athlete injury. Field hardness can be measured by using the Gmax Tester or the Clegg Tester.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) states that: “According to historical data (based on safety studies), the value of 200G is considered to be a maximum threshold. Values of 200 Gmax and above are considered values at which life threatening head injuries maybe expected to occur”.

This maximum impact level of <200 average Gmax has been accepted by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A value of 135G with the Clegg Tester is about equal to 200 with the Gmax tester.

Fields should be tested periodically to be sure test levels fall below these levels. The Field Manager can use Best Management Practices to deal with compaction and field hardness.

Maintain turf density for traction

Key to safety is to have adequate turf cover which provides athlete foot traction, surface friction and a surface that can absorb athlete shock forces. The sports field should provide a level of footing that benefits the player's actions without causing excessive stress to joints or ligaments. Aggressive overseeding programs are necessary when trying to maintain turf cover throughout the playing season. The cost of this seeding approach is well worth the expense.

Reduce exposure to pesticides

In 2010, New York State Education and Social Service laws were amended to essentially prohibit the use of pesticides on playing fields, playgrounds, and turf at schools and day care centers. This law is commonly referred to the Child Safe Playing Fields Act (CSPFA) and only allows specific pesticide products to be use on these sites. The intention of the law is to reduce the exposure of pesticides to children. More information on this law can be found by accessing the final guidance document produced by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

Support continuing education opportunities

Now that the routine use of pesticides is no longer available for managing pest problems, greater management expertise is needed to develop alternative pest management strategies.

Promote staff development opportunities for field managers to be sure the latest Integrated Pest Management Practices (IPM) are being implemented on your fields and grounds.

Providing safe playing fields

Knowledge about growing turf, skilled labor that can assess the field conditions and determine if the field is ready for desired or expected use, proper equipment to get the job done and informed management that can realign resources when necessary are all important factors in providing safe fields.

Routine maintenance of sports fields and multi-use fields is always challenging and can be frustrating especially when there is a labor shortage, inadequate budget and unrealistic expectations demanded by field users.

Focus resources on Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Labor, equipment time and budget all influence the degree of field care that can be provided. However, implementing essential Best Management Practices that improve field conditions and increase turf density will provide greater player safety and allow for more field use.

Practice Results depend on Necessary Investment
Mowing Correct height of cut and frequency Select equipment that can get the job done efficiently
Watering Timely supplemental application at the correct rate and with efficient coverage Functioning below ground system or above ground system that can water fields efficiently. System needs to be checked for accuracy.
Fertilizing Applied properly at the correct time and rate Have a nutrient analysis done for each field. Use soil test results to develop fertilizer program. Select fertilizer based on soil conditions and available resources.
Aerifying Matching operation with goal determines frequency and timing Minimum 2 times per year, 4-6 times better In season: solid tine, off season other options
Overseeding Always using good quality seed throughout the season Use recommended varieties and focus regularly on high-use areas
Topdressing Selecting and applying the correct material for the purpose of the application Use for minor variations or depressions, better seeding, amending soils (budget permitting)  

Take action

Administrators can improve their own knowledge of sports field management by reviewing the information provided in this website. Start with the Management Schedules which provide a guide for routine operations. Keep in mind that the Field Manager must adjust management decisions daily given current field conditions and predicted weather patterns.

Also take an active role in improving the management of the sports fields by developing and working with a team that includes the Field Manager, Athletic Director, Coaches and other vested partners, to:

  1. Support the use of Best Management Practices. Improve your relationship with the Field Manager by learning about their knowledge, experience and commitment to providing safe, functional fields. Acknowledge their assessment of field conditions and support their recommendations about field use. Encourage their continuing education.

  1. Encourage the establishment of a field maintenance record keeping system that will allow Field Managers to assess the impact of their work and allocation of resources. Administrators will learn the cost of keeping safe functional fields.

  1. Promote the education and understanding of the real cost of overuse and the impact on field quality to all those who use the fields including coaches, Athletic Directors, community members, etc.

  1. Develop a field use policy for outside groups with realistic expectations, that can be implemented and supported. Consequences for misuse should be spelled out and establish a cost recovery policy for repairs and renovation.

  1. Build better relationships with all partners by developing a communication system that promotes shared decision-making when it comes to reasonable field use or when closing a field is necessary.