Dirty Dozen--Avoid these field-maintenance mistakes

By Fred Engh

Poorly maintained youth-sports fields are big trouble for a lot of reasons—most notably they put young athletes at increased and unnecessary risk of injury.

Loose turf, broken sprinkler heads, and debris are just some of the many obstacles on the playing field that can ruin playing time.

And also cast a dark cloud over the quality of your youth-sports programs.

I checked in with Eddie Martinez, a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA) and the Park, Recreation and Open Spaces Manager III at the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces in Florida to get his take on the importance of field maintenance:

“The biggest challenge we have with maintaining fields is budget cuts. We have streamlined how we maintain fields by hiring a sports-turf manager who oversees the athletic fields within the department. The Sports Turf Division has qualified and trained staff members to maintain the natural-turf fields, and they help mitigate the overuse of the fields. Since we can play year-round, we started to institute mandatory field closures to allow the Bermuda grass to grow and be healthy. As far as the ball fields, the infields are maintained by the park staff members assigned to the facilities. Some of the challenges are weather, no funding for adequate renovations of the fields, lack of institutional knowledge, and overuse. To help mitigate these, at my facility we are constantly filling in holes with the Ballpark-6 Groomer. The grading and renovations of fields is costly, so we try to keep the fields playable by adding clay from the high spots of the fields to the low spots.

“My advice to new recreation professionals is to try to partner with the community-based organizations that use your fields for donations to help with the upkeep of the fields. Also, develop in-house trainings for staff members in the area of field maintenance and the best practices to avoid unplayable fields. If you live in an area where weather is a factor or the fields have high traffic, maybe consider synthetic turf versus Bermuda for soccer/multipurpose fields. Take courses in field maintenance and restricted pesticide to ensure you are well versed with industry standards. Try to become a member of a professional association to network with others in the turf-maintenance industry to share knowledge and experiences. Always fill holes and drag fields after play to keep them conditioned, and have a plan in place where you force field closures to give the fields some time to rest and rejuvenate.”

These are some of the common mistakes that are made when it comes to field maintenance, Martinez adds:

1.       Dragging the ballfields too close to the lip. This creates clay build-up on the rim of the field and backstops.
2.       Trying to move water around by dragging the mud. This creates holes and high spots where the clay builds up.
3.       Allowing play on the field when there is thick mud.
4.       Overwatering of the field, which will cause the Bermuda to become off-color.
5.       Allowing soccer or football to play on fields with standing water. This creates bare spots and requires re-sodding, which is costly.
6.       During tournaments, neglecting to drag after the fourth game or to fill holes after each game, creating huge craters at home plate, which becomes a safety concern.
7.       Allowing hazards to remain on the field, such as broken sprinkler heads.
8.       Setting an irrigation schedule that doesn’t coincide with the rainy season. Sprinklers running every day when it’s raining will cause the Bermuda to become off-color and unhealthy.
9.       Dragging too fast on the clay, creating ripples, which causes bad hops.
10.    Failing to use a string when lining the fields.
11.    Measuring fields incorrectly—this leads to asymmetrical fields.
12.    Putting in the bases at the wrong measurements.

Fred Engh is founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.