A few weeks ago, I shared an article on our Facebook and Twitter pages that suggests that turf fields, like the ones we help build though our Safe Places to Play program, are vital to the future of soccer in North America. My intent in sharing the article was not to sing our own praises, but to present an informative and fairly neutral take on a topic that is often at the center of debate in the soccer community. Our followers left a lot of passionate comments – both in support of turf fields and against them – and made me reconsider my own stance on the great grass vs. turf debate.
According to the article, a field’s playing surface can have a huge impact on the speed and feel of the game. For example, on a turf field, the ball moves very quickly, passes feel cleaner and more accurate, and field conditions remain consistent regardless of weather or location. By comparison, real grass can make for a slower, bumpier game and field conditions are always subject to weather conditions and proper maintenance. Yet many would argue that a grass playing surface lends itself to a more “natural” game and is crucial to helping players avoid injury and properly develop skills. As someone who plays mostly for fun, I’ve been pretty indifferent about this topic; grass or turf, I’m usually just happy to have a place to play and have learned to adjust my style of play to match the surface.
However, like many of our Soccer for Success participants and grant recipients, I live in an urban area where field space is not readily available and priority access to existing playing fields is often granted to elite teams or competitive leagues. But because the field in my neighborhood is lighted and made with turf, it can be used around-the-clock and remains open and playable even in the poorest weather conditions. Whether it’s rainy or sunny, summer or winter, mid-day or midnight, my friends and I have a place to play, and despite heavy use, this field looks and feels like new.
In urban areas or in communities where field space is limited, turf helps ensure equal access to playing opportunities by helping to sustain proper field quality and maximizing the number of individuals who can actively use a play space. So while real grass may be preferable for elite athletes or professional players, turf is key to helping us increase the number of children who can play the game and can help us do so in a faster, more egalitarian way.
Are there turf fields in your community? Which playing surface do you prefer?