A well-maintained sports pitch provides an enjoyable and safe environment for players of all ages to practice, play and compete. Pitch maintenance should focus on aeration and improving the drainage of the soil as well as keeping the grass growing densely and reducing surface compaction.
A key component of any sports pitch maintenance programme is soil analysis to establish the Available Water Capacity (AWC). This indicates how much water is in the ground and what is its availability to the turf. A high AWC ensures that the turf is not overly stressed and that water is readily available to the roots. It also promotes healthy grass growth and improves root health.
Performing frequent hollow coring is a very effective solution to the build-up of thatch in a natural grass pitch. This process creates 8 to 10 cm ‘carrots’ in the soil which can be filled with a variety of materials such as sand, compost, topsoil or screened aggregates.
Hollow coreing can be combined with decompaction to further improve drainage and encourage aeration of the soil. Using a mechanical decompactor at a depth of up to 25 cm helps to relieve surface compaction, softening the ground and improving the flow of air and water through the ground. This will allow the roots to grow more easily, allowing good shock absorption and enabling an optimal playing condition for synthetic pitches.
In addition to aeration and drainage, a good quality sports pitch requires the right mix of grass and the correct mowing height. In general a winter sports pitch should be cut to 35-40 mm during the build-up period and reduced to around 25-30 mm for the season. Inspecting the pitch for low spots and muddy areas is important and the central third should be particularly scrutinised as it will be heavily used during matches.
Whether a football or rugby pitch, a quality surface is essential for a good game and the safety of the players. The referee has a responsibility to inspect the pitch before each match and decide whether or not it is safe for play. If a match is not played on a suitable surface the referee has the authority to refuse permission for the game to go ahead.
A pitch inspection should involve a walk-over of the whole area to check the quality and consistency of the surface as well as checking for trip hazards from the edges and seating arrangements. The surface should also be tested for bounce and to meet sports testing standards.
When a team plays on an unsafe or unsuitable surface the results can be disastrous. It is recommended that a full pitch inspection takes place at least a day before each scheduled game to avoid any accidents or injuries.