Across the country there is heightened focus on athlete safety. This has resulted in more scrutiny of contributors to athlete injuries. Players on any athletic field are exposed to some risk of injury; however, reducing head trauma is a primary concern, especially in football.
The priority for those maintaining athletic surfaces is to provide safe, playable fields for all participants including athletes, referees and spectators. Here is some advice to help.
- check for obstructions on the field surface
- overseed often
- check sports equipment
- have safety plans in place
- check field hardness
- neglect routine maintenance
- forego aeration
- neglect out of play areas
- let fencing become an oversight
- allow a lip to build up
Prior to games and practices, ensure maintenance equipment, such as rakes, shovels, or portable irrigation equipment have not been left behind. If sprinkler heads are installed on the field, they should be level with the playing surface to reduce tripping hazards. Clear the surface of any litter or unsafe debris. Make repairs to any ruts, holes or mounds to ensure the playing field is smooth and consistent.
Daily wear-and-tear from athletic use puts a lot of stress on turfgrass plants, which can result in a thin stand and bare spots. Overseeding will help promote turfgrass growth and density, which will also help reduce trips and falls.
Goals and goal posts need to be straight and securely anchored. If there are any sharp edges, protrusions, or fractures, make repairs or replace the equipment immediately.
Every facility should have a warning program and lightning safety plan in place for severe weather events. Monitor the weather or utilize lightning detection systems for early warnings. Have a plan that includes evacuation and safety measures for users and patrons. Know where people will go for cover and how long it will take them to get there. Have specific guidelines for suspending events or activities so everyone has time to reach safety.
When an athlete falls on a field, the impact is absorbed by both the playing surface and the player’s body. The harder the surface, the greater amount of impact is absorbed by the player’s body, and therefore, the greater the probability a fall will result in serious injury. Test field hardness on a regular basis using a Clegg Impact Tester or F355 device.
Plan for mowing, irrigation, fertilization, cultivation, seeding and pest control. Conducting basic cultural practices on a routine schedule will go a long way in optimizing turfgrass health, which will result in improved playing conditions.
Soil aeration is one of the most beneficial and often the most underutilized cultural practices. It relieves compaction, allows turfgrass roots to grow deeply and air, water and nutrients to penetrate the soil. Make it a priority to aerate fields at least twice per year. Areas that receive a lot of traffic, such as goal mouths or between the hashes in football, should be aerated more often.
A minimum of 25 feet around the field allows players to run safely out-of-bounds. In a multi-field complex, a minimum of 50 feet is recommended between fields. Clear out-of-bounds areas of obstructions. If there is a transition area to a track, it should be easily identifiable and level. Also, be sure any drainage areas are adequately marked and/or covered. Any areas that aren’t clearly marked and protected could create liability and potential accidents for players and spectators.
Fencing that is properly installed is securely set in the ground with concrete footings below the soil surface. Fences should be located an appropriate distance from the playing area, securely attached to posts, and free of large gaps, protrusions, sharp edges or loose areas.
Over time, the infield mix on softball and baseball fields can collect and build up on edges between the infield skin and turfgrass. The soil buildup can cause footing and tripping hazards.
Improving athletic field and facility safety requires planning and awareness. Create an annual maintenance schedule to make sure fields are receiving the proper care to keep them safe, healthy and actively growing. Be aware of the overall safety of athletes, coaches, users and patrons visiting the facility by properly maintaining fields and the structures outside of the playing area.