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Sports Fields and Player Safety

Player safety is a major concern on sports fields in Australia and around the world and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Quarterback on a $15million contract, NRL star, a local club cricketer or your own child playing in the under 11’s team.  There is a baseline expectation that the playing fields surface will not be the cause of any injury.  Increasingly the issue of player safety is a major pressures on managers of sports facilities.

Cameron and I met with some of the world’s leading researchers in sports turf and turfgrass maintenance.  It was consensus that the two major factors influencing the safety of surfaces were weeds and wear.  These major factors are then followed by the lesser but related issues of hardness and slippage.  These tend to be directly correlated with high wear and can largely be controlled in fields with good consistent turf coverage.

Uncontrolled weeds such as Crabgrass (Eleusine indica), broadleaf weeds and lingering ryegrass clumps can quickly develop into trip hazards on sports fields.  With some investment and careful timing, the use of pre- and post-emergent herbicide can render weeds as tripping hazards almost insignificant.

Secondly the unrelenting issue of excessive wear.  With use pressure ever increasing during especially the slow recovering winter months, closures due to wet weather becomes both essential and frustrating (depending on which side of the fence you’re on).  Clubs would like to play all the time and do not always fully appreciate the fact that wear causes hazardous areas that gets compacted and can cause slippage and injury, so it’s a fine line for the turf and the politics to negotiate.  Interestingly, it was shown in the US that the damage caused by a game of football played in the wet, equals that of 7 games played in the dry.  We frequently face a situation where by the end of May each year, fields are starting to show signs of wear with another 5 months of play to go.

With no relenting in the weather or the playing schedules the only thing to do is to ensure that everything possible is done to extract a few week’s additional growth through the season to aid recover as much as possible.  Below are a few ideas that Living Turf supports and can help with (listed in order of importance).

1. Winter fertiliser

Start with programming in extra fertiliser applications through the winter.  Matchplay Sportsblend Long Drive 23-2-8 (30% slow release N) will provide up to 8-10 weeks’ nutrition for your turf.  A couple of applications during the football season (even if its just the high wear areas) will help maintain some growth and can really help the turf to take full advantage of warmer spells or closures to recover.

2. Iron with pigments

Back the additional fertility up iron and pigments.  Here’s the logic behind it – during winter lower soil temperatures severely restrict the uptake of iron from the soil and combined with lower light conditions contributes to lower growth, recovery and colour loss.  In the US much research has been done with pigments and trends are emerging that regular pigment applications can aide in increasing soil temperatures by as much as 1.5-2°C.  Thus programming in a monthly combination of a high quality pigment such as Sensipro Greenlinks with additional iron such as Matchplay Enhance 12-0-0 +10Fe will ensure colour retention and will support turf to also utilise the additional nutrition optimally.

3. Overseeding

Many modern seed blends now contain a mixture of Continental and Mediterranean varieties, the Mediterranean varieties have been selected for their ability to continue to grow in colder conditions. An overseeded field protects the understorey of couch or kikuyu, better maintains surface coverage, assist with drainage and therefore allows more games in the season.  Customising high quality overseeding programs is an area of expertise within Living Turf and we can assist in finding the best options for your specific situations.