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Field Guide

A Groundskeeper’s Guide to Preseason Football Field Maintenance

July 23, 2014

Can you feel the excitement in the air? It’s almost football season. Soon, athletes at all levels will be donning their cleats, jerseys and helmets, and stadiums all across the country will be rocking with fans. But while all that might still be a few weeks away, for groundskeepers, now is the true beginning of the football season. Now is the time the real work has to be done to start getting the football field in tiptop condition for practices and games.

Preseason Items to Consider:

  • Practice wear and tear:

    As football teams hit the field for off-season practice, they can do a lot of damage to the playing surface. According to Dwight Hunter, Field Manager of North Syracuse Central Schools and Treasurer of Sports Turf Managers of New York, “The teams like to practice in the same areas, it seems all the time, which compacts the soil, thins the turf and creates less than ideal playing conditions. So keeping these areas safe and playable becomes very challenging.” Hunter suggests grounds managers work with coaches to ensure practice areas are moved around regularly to other parts of the field to help avoid over use.
  • Debris:

    Another common struggle grounds managers face is keeping a clean field. During the pre-season practices, it’s not out of the ordinary for trash to accumulate on and around the field as the athletes work out. Debris can range from used paper cups to broken cleats to tape and more. It’s important for grounds managers to stick to a regular cleaning schedule to ensure all litter is removed from the field to eliminate any hazards for the players.
  • Sideline maintenance:

    To the average person, the sidelines might not seem all that important. It’s just an area for the coaches and players on the bench to gather, right? Wrong. Sideline maintenance is very important. A lot of action takes place on the sidelines. Plays spill off the field onto the sidelines. Athletes warm up there. Cheerleaders perform there as well. Keeping the sidelines protected is important for safety. The use of sideline tarps can be very helpful in preventing sideline wear and tear.
  • Communication is key:

    Because coaches spend hours on the field every day with their team, they are often the first ones to notice field issues. When there’s a good line of communication between the coaching staff and the groundskeeping team, coaches are able to relay these issues in a timely manner so they aren’t overlooked. By bringing the field issues to the attention of the groundskeeping team, they can take immediate action to rectify the problems before they worsen and lead to player injury or costly field repairs.

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What To Include in Your Grass Football Field Maintenance Schedule:

Don’t wait until the regular season rolls around to focus on field maintenance. Use the pre-season to get your football field into great condition before game time.

  • Keep the field watered:

    It gets hot in the summer, and if your football field isn’t getting enough water, it will dry out and the grass might not continue to grow properly. By including watering in your football field maintenance schedule, your field won’t dry out and develop cracks, crevices and other hazards. A good irrigation system can go a long way to helping evenly supply your field with water while also ensuring it doesn’t get too much water and flood.
  • Mow the football field regularly:

    One of the general groundskeeping rules of thumb, as well as one of CoverSports’ main football field maintenance tips, is that you should mow your football field regularly enough so that you never have to cut more than one-third of the grass’s height during each mowing. This is supposed to help maintain the overall health of the field.
  • Test the soil:

    To ensure a healthy football field, it’s recommended that you get your soil tested annually for its pH, phosphorus and potassium levels. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure your field has the proper nutrient levels.
  • Check for pest problems:

    Weeds, insects, rodents and diseases can all wreak havoc on your football field and destroy the playing surface. Catching these problems early on is the best way to treat them effectively. Make sure you carefully analyze your field regularly for signs of any pest problems.
  • Consider field renovation:

    In general, most youth football fields need to be renovated every couple of years. Typically, this involves things such as adding soil and grading to the field crown, aerifying the field and adding fertilizer, seeding the turf, etc.
  • Aerate your field:

    Core aerating is essential after the season — The football season is long, grueling, and very hard on the field. A lot of soil compaction takes place during the season, creating extensive wear and tear on the turf. Core aerating can help solve this problem. Core aerating helps relieve soil compaction caused by a season’s worth of play, and allows for proper air and water movement throughout the root zone of the turf. It may be necessary to aerate the center of the field (the area between the 30-yard lines and the hash marks) more aggressively since this is where a football field wear is most noticeable and most compacted.
  • Use the right football field maintenance equipment to protect against rain and harsh weather:

    Summertime often brings rain and unpredictable weather. Make sure you’re using rain covers and turf blankets to keep your field protected against even the harshest summer weather events.
  • Remember there is no “offseason”:

    “There is not really an ‘offseason’ in properly preparing a football (field) for the upcoming season. As soon as the previous season is over, usually around the second week of November, preparations begin to get the season ready for the following year,” says Dave Anderson, Grounds and Athletic Field Manager for Hempfield School District in Landisville, Pa. Maintaining a football field is absolutely a year-round job that requires careful planning and constant attention. It’s the only way to properly preserve your investment.

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