What Makes an Athletic Field Safe?

What to Look for in a Perfect Sports Field

Over the last several years, an enormous amount of time and energy had been spent focusing on athletes’ head injury issues as it relates to their equipment and playing surfaces. And for the record, every dollar spent to research safer and better ways to protect children who play on a synthetic or natural turf field is a small investment when you consider the alternative.

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Home Depot Center AstroBowl 2012

Safety on sports fields or playgrounds goes far beyond having the proper helmet or a cushy surface on which to fall. The fact is, safety on a field has many facets which all need to be addressed in order to ensure the safest experience possible for athletes of all ages and skill levels. Like most, when I hear the words safe play, I immediately think of a child falling off of a piece of playground equipment or getting tackled on the playing field and getting right back in the game, uninjured.

 

How can a sports field provide the safest play experience possible? What makes a field or playground safe? What can be done to improve the playability of an athletic field? How do we achieve it?

Key Considerations for Athletic Field Safety

 

When we look at the list above, it becomes apparent that all the factors of field safety must be addressed to ensure the most consistent play surface possible it is imperative that a field plays as well in five years as it did the day it was installed. Hence, extremely important in selecting products that will provide this consistency. It all starts with a great foundation, and in the world of synthetic turf, that is the base.

Historically, synthetic turf bases have been made of compacted stone and/or a layer of asphalt leveled on top. Some have been built directly on concrete slabs and laying grass directly on top. It has worked well, for years, and thousands of fields have been successfully constructed with this method, but we can do better! If you look at the incredible advancements in the quality of the turf compared to base technology, it is time to recognize the base is the starting point of a safe play surface.

I believe it all starts with the base! Let’s take a look at all the properties that make for a great facility.

Critical Fall Height

Historically there have been several ways to achieve the standards of a safe playing surface. Providing a soft landing zone directly in the turf, traditionally, has been achieved in the form of rubber fill. It has worked very well for years and is still popular. Another option is to provide a foam layer attached directly to the underside of the turf or provide some type of additional pad system which rests directly on the stone or hard sub base in an effort to soften the field. These concepts do the job in providing a better feel when you inevitably hit the ground during play. A base replacement system such as UltraBaseSystems will enhance or often times eliminate the need for some of these options providing an “all-in-one solution for safety.”

Energy Restitution

I have always used this description for energy restitution: If you are running on the beach at the water’s edge, the sand is hard and you feel as though you could run forever at lightning speed. Move up to the sand dunes and suddenly each stride is a struggle. The good news is, if you fall down on the dunes the chance of getting hurt is very low, but you will be exhausted after a short run. The return of energy one feels at the water’s edge is energy restitution, in other words, the “good energy” that is retuned back to your body when running on a firm surface.

Predictable Ball Roll and Ball Bounce

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Tampa Bay Rays Practice Field

This is one of my pet peeves. I have spent the last 15 years building a base system that delivers one of the most predictable ball rolls possible for a golf ball. How do we do it? Simply stated, we build putting greens on an engineered base, not a pile of compacted stone. The same goes for athletic fields. If I am playing third base, I darn well want to be sure that the ball flying down the third base line is traveling in a predictable path and not hitting pockets of displaced stone under the turf or an irregularly graded base. One bad hop and an athlete’s career could be over in a second.

 

Non-slide Surfaces

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 17, 2011: Washington Union defeated Campolindo 14-10 at The Home Depot Center on December 17, 2011 in Carson, CA. All images courtesy of Time Warner Cable. (Photo by John Salangsang | Time Warner Cable)

Home Depot Center AstroBowl 2012

Much work has, and is, being done to improve the traction of synthetic turf. In fact, one of the important tests to achieve industry approval is measuring the foot rotation turf allows or doesn’t allow. There has always been much discussion about the slippage that some base systems allow which can result in wrinkled turf that can cause injury or a sloppy looking installation.

Proper Drainage

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Not every location in the world drains perfectly. Here in Florida, our sandy soils allow the water to percolate in to the ground very rapidly. However, in many parts of the world, soils which don’t allow good drainage, or are in low lying areas, can pose a real issue. Your base selection better allow for vertical drainage so that rain flows through the turf and in to the awaiting sub base or to run through the turf and be funneled out horizontally to the perimeter edge of the field or some other awaiting engineered drain system. Having the ability to store water in your base system is a huge plus. One of the theories of a stone base is that water can be stored in the stone during a heavy rain and ultimately percolate into the ground or some type of drainage system. UltraBaseSystems creates the storage capacity within the design of the product and ultimately allowing unwanted rainwater off of the surface. Keep the water away from the athlete and you will see safer play.

Perfect Planarity 

This ties directly to ball roll, but it is also a huge aesthetic advantage. Nothing looks nicer than a perfectly manicured natural grass field, and with the selection of a proper base system, this “billiard table” look must be readily and consistency achieved throughout the life of the field.

Structurally Sound
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All of the characteristics listed have little meaning if the base of the field is not solid underfoot.  A strong base will be a firmly compacted stone system, a solid base selection such as asphalt or a structural base replacement system such as UltraBaseSystems.  The athlete must feel that his footing is solid and the ground under the turf is stable and will remain that way.

All of these criteria can be a bit overwhelming until you realize there is a single product on the market that achieves all these goals and more. UltraBaseSystems (UBS) is truly a revolution in base technology. These patented, interlocking base panels provide a single solution to achieving the best base system possible. UBS was engineered to provide a structural alternative to stone bases while delivering the safety characteristics every athlete demands. Don’t turn to a drain mat to move rain off the field. Don’t turn to a shock pad to achieve all around safer play. Don’t turn to asphalt to achieve a uniform aesthetic appeal. UltraBaseSystems performs all of these functions and will satisfy your entire base requirements.