Investing in Safe Fields

Demand for School and Community Playing Fields Keeps Growing

Youth and adults rely on school properties and community parks for numerous outdoor activities associated with improving health. In fact the physical, emotional and social benefits of school-based sports programs (weight control, problem-solving skills, self-esteem, social competence and academic achievement) have been studied and documented for many years.

As reported in the 2003 New York State Turfgrass Survey, New York State has 675 school systems that have almost 19,000 acres in sports fields. On average these schools have 17 different fields in use almost 6 months out of the year with their average daily use of 4.7 hours. Often the resources allocated to maintain these fields falls short of the ideal. Typically only 1 person on staff has had some turfgrass management training.

In the 350 New York parks you can find 21,000 acres in fields being used 6.7 months out of the year and on average 5.8 hours per day. The interest in community sports is growing by leaps and bounds leading to a shortage of safe playing fields.

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. Excessive demands of the field use cause severe damage and unexpected weather patterns can delay timely and necessary field maintenance operations.

Factors that Influence Field Safety

The likelihood of field safety problems exists 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.

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

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.

Check for Field Hardness Annually

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.

View Penn State video: Understanding Gmax

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”.

See also: American Society for Testing and Materials

This maximum impact level of <200 average Gmax has been accepted by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Actually many project specifications may require a lower maximum impact level to minimize the likelihood of injury. ASTM - F1936 covers the procedure for checking field hardness on natural turf.

A value of 135G with the Clegg Tester is about equal to 200 with the Gmax tester. The procedures for using the Clegg Tester to assess field hardness can be found in ASTM F1702 and the values in ASTM F355.

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.

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 downloading the final guidance document produced by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation at

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. This website emphasizes best management cultural practices and encourages the adoption of IPM principles for sports and recreational fields.

Is Adding a Synthetic Field the Answer?

Many factors impact the capacity of a sports field to handle high usage including: the soil type, grass species, weather conditions, kind of sport, amount of usage, management program, budget, etc.
Your school or community may not have enough land to accommodate the growing demand for sports fields and native soil fields can take just so much use before the turf thins and compaction becomes severe.
One possible solution to this problem could be the addition of a synthetic sports field to your complex which can be played on essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Having and using a synthetic turf field would allow native soil fields to be rested and have time to recuperate.  

Keep in mind that synthetic turf fields are expensive and not maintenance free. Learn more in the  Synthetic Field section.

Responsibility and Risk Management

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 Coolseason Turfgrasses on Athletic Fields (F2060) which states the minimum maintenance requirements that grounds personnel should provide.

Grounds managers need to know the practices noted in the guide and be sure to at least provide this basic level of care. This information should be shared with coaches and others so they are aware of that your field management practices are compliant with the “Duty of Care” principle.

Frank Rossi, Cornell Turfgrass Extension Specialist discusses Safety First

Communicate Your Plan

Providing safe, functional fields should be a primary concern for those who manage and use both school and community fields.

Be sure that athletes, coaches, athletic directors, concerned parents, school boards, community groups and local government officials are aware of your field management plan, commitment to “duty of care” and player safety.

Their improved understanding of the critical maintenance practices essential for maintaining safe sport fields will help in gaining their support when justifying management programs, developing budget requests, and enforcing field access and management schedules and operations.