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Question Number: 31619

Other 6/23/2017

RE: Under 19

glenn of bay area, ca usa asks...

How do you feel, as a referee, about artificial turf vs. natural grass fields?

I know that professional players really hate artificial turf (I remember the US Women's team boycotting a few years ago because they were forced to play and practice of turf fields) due to increased injury risk, but I believe men's highest level teams play on well-kept grass fields.

But at least in my area, all the highest level games are played on turf fields, schools tend to put in turf fields, etc. Grass fields are basically reserved for younger kids or lower skill level games

For me, turf is just easier to run on (use running shoes vs cleats), much cleaner (nice lines, etc), and in my area grass fields are rarely kept up to a nice level (the best soccer complex in my region has a carpet-like grass that is amazing, but besides that, fields are usually half dead masses of dirt, holes, and weeds, even in wealthier areas)

In fact, I'll even take turf games over grass games even when it's very hot out because of how much more I like the turf and will sacrifice temperatures over 100 degrees for it.

Just curious to get some longtime pro referees takes

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Glenn
I am old school and my preference is for grass. Grass is a much better playing surface as it is less sore on players bodies and the ball reacts better on it that is lower bounces, not as lively so control is somewhat easier.
Now I recall the early days of artificial turf and it was not well received in fact it was frowned on. Early introductions of artificial turf were replaced with grass due to the unfavourable reaction. Players if they fell were guaranteed a nasty burn so they were frowned on for competitive matches. Bounces were huge and play was generally difficult for those used to grass. The ball was designed was grass play. Recent improvements in technology has moved a long way from that up now to a fourth generation 4G. I note that even rugby now plays on these 4G artificial surfaces which was unheard of years ago. However the game is still different on artificial turf than on grass
In our Pro League we have only one team playing on artificial turf and a second team is in the process of joining them. Speaking to these clubs they believe that with so many games at all levels in their clubs that the artificial turf allows all the games to be played particularly in inclement weather. On grass it is probably two games at most that could be played over a weekend and even at that the damage caused might not be recoverable. Clubs also use it as a source of revenue as they can rent out the field regularly with no concern to damage of the surface.
Now the reality is that from a playing perspective well kept grass is the preferred option for players. The last Womens FIFA World Cup in Canada was played on all artificial surfaces and all the teams complained bitterly about that. Some 80 players felt so strongly about this that they threatened FIFA with a legal suit to require future tournaments to be played on grass like the mens game. One major complaint was ground temperature due to the nature of the surface along with the recovery time taken compared to running on grass.
So at the highest level in the mens game grass is the norm and clubs invest a great deal in ensuring pristine playing surfaces. Teams complain bitterly when the grass surface is not pristine. Now artificial turf has been introduced where grass surfaces have challenges such as lack of maintenance, poor growing conditions, heavy playing schedule, weather considerations etc. Some suggest that artificial turf is more cost effective yet that is debatable given the high replacement cost of replacing the turf. It still needs some maintenance such as repairs, brushing, moss control etc
From a referee perspective I believe certain consideration has to be taken on the surface such as lively bounces hitting hands, higher bounces meaner higher challenges for the ball, faster plays plus heavier falls, fewer sliding and ground challenges etc. It probably is easier for the referee yet it is the players game and their perception is generally not favourable.
So it is a matter of personal preference and if one likes the surface then great. My preference is for grass yet I have no concern about refereeing on artificial turf.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Glenn,
You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto

LOL two sides of the same coin but I do agree the definitive lines in RECREATIONAL fields are very clear and distinct compared to many grass settings, although sometimes confusing as they have other boundary lines marked out for football or rugby or even lacrosse . The advantage of artificial is the availability to use in inclement weather. I recall the OLD all weather fields were crushed rock and I spent a lot of time picking out rock chips from my knees and thighs. The first artificial turfs I received the slide burns along the thighs as bright red badges of honour for going down knowing it was not going to be a fun process. lol

Grass as a natural surface tends to stain the knees not grate them so it is understandable why players prefer the grass. As for referees I think only in context of having adequate foot gear to compensate for the differences is my concern. Running in studded shoes on artificial turf kills the feet and on a wet field of grass runners just suck lol

It is notable to consider how the turf affects play if wet or the ball bouncing faster or higher off a hard pitch versus a soft or muddy grass. However, we still look to setting the bar of reckless play as to the ability of players to play under control Grass fields can have wear spots and the ball does roll well on flat versus bumpy We have all seen the oops ball as it takes a weird hop over the keepers shoulders into goal.

The expenses versus the benefits are always being debated as to usage and acceptable maintenance costs but a well elevated pristine grass surface with good drainage, properly cut and in good form is certainly a pleasure. I can see though the dry climates areas and the changing weather patterns to keep grass fields in good shape is difficult unless those dedicated to upkeep. I ran into all kinds of union issues on school fields trying to get grass cut, holes filled etc.. We volunteered but unions wanted the work claimed school boards were not allocating funds. Kids suffered while adults played power politics sigh

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Answer provided by Referee Gary Voshol

Artificial turf is much better than the grass (mud, rocks, ground-hard-as-concrete) fields that most youth and amateur games are played on. It's nice to have a field where you don't need to watch for divots and bumps. Yes, it does get very hot. And the ball keeps moving, so the ref has to keep moving too. But the pros far outweigh the cons. Some people even calculate that the cost is less for artificial turf, despite the high initial installation, because there's so little upkeep.

That said, locations where professional and national teams play are not your run of the mill, torn up parks and rec field. I understand why players would like to play on a well-maintained flat natural grass field. I'd like to ref on one too. But you aren't going to find that on a park field that hosts multiple games each week and doesn't have a dedicated grounds keeper.

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