Managing your sportsfield – data is king!

In discussion with Michael Robinson, Sports Turf Agronomist 

Sportsfields are a vital part of the community and need to be managed appropriately to maximise usage time and protect the quality of the surface. Turf managers are faced with difficult decisions across public and private sectors, balancing cost against maintenance needs, and without the correct management strategy, sportsfields can quickly become degraded and unsafe if overused. Often facilities can overlook the importance of investing in ongoing maintenance and this can be a short-sighted approach that increases costs in the long run.

Winter usage is the most critical because it occurs during the period when grass growth is at its slowest and soil conditions are at their most fragile. The traditional winter sports of Australian Rules football (AFL), soccer and rugby can cause major damage to natural turf playing surfaces due to the combination of intense wear and challenging climate. Concentrated and excessive use during winter damages turf cover and often the surface structure and levels. This can require substantial funds to correct and can cause significant disruption while the repair works are undertaken.

Summer sports such as cricket are less intensive and generally coincide with the period of vigorous growth of the warm-season grasses. However, damage can occur during summer on fields used for touch football and small-sided games of soccer especially when the turf is stressed from heat or lack of water.

Training is especially damaging to any playing surface as training drills concentrate wear over small areas. Thin to bare areas and localised depressions are often seen at the nearest goals and in front of the club rooms etc. Once damage has occurred these areas remain fragile, more easily damaged and sometimes can be beyond repair. Severe damage in one part of the ground can make the whole ground unplayable.

Managing Usage

It is critical that use is managed carefully, striking a balance maximising use, preserving the surface and minimising the risk of injury. Good management involves;

  • Setting usage limits

  • Communicating a usage policy in place that addresses pre-season training, training restrictions (no training in high wear and weak areas), training relocation in poor weather, ground closures if surface conditions become critical, enforcement of usage limits and penalties for any breaches

  • Having dedicated training fields where a lower surface quality is acceptable

  • Making indoor/synthetic training facilities available during periods when the main facilities are most vulnerable to damage


  • Installing training lights across a whole facility or providing portable lighting so training can be spread more evenly across the field.


  • Providing movable goals


  • Encouraging clubs to adopt training strategies that minimise wear/damage to the playing surface. Training activities must be spread over the entire ground and training on high wear and weak areas avoided. All drill work must be conducted off the playing surface.


  • Providing adequate maintenance budgets so that a healthy, actively growing sward can be maintained and necessary activities be undertaken when required. However, it should be realised that once the maximum level of use for any field has been reached, no additional amount of maintenance inputs will help

  • Allowing adequate time between sporting seasons for autumn and spring renovation programs to be conducted

Usage Modelling

Simply put, the usage capacity of a sportsfield is the amount of use that a playing surface can sustain before it deteriorates to a point where short-term recovery is not achievable.

STRI Australia has developed a model that estimates a sportsfield’s potential winter usage capacity considering its current condition, turf type, soil type, drainage effectiveness, maintenance level, sport played and standard of competition. The model is based on the following general principles;

  • The maximum potential usage capacity of a well-constructed sportsfield (sand profile, effective drainage, warm-season turf oversown with ryegrass) is 21 to 25 hours per week.

  • The better the condition of the playing surface (i.e. cover, density, vigour) the greater the level of use that can be tolerated.


  • A mixed-sward or an oversown warm-season turf will tolerate greater use than a mono stand of warm-season (couch or kikuyu) or cool-season grasses (ryegrass)


  • Sand profiles and sandy soils with effective drainage will tolerate greater use than heavy soils or sportsfields with poor drainage capacity.


  • Higher maintenance levels (e.g. fertiliser, aeration, topdressing) will allow greater usage.


  • Different sports and levels of sports have different intensity of use and thus wear (ie. football, soccer and rugby will cause greater damage than lacrosse or baseball/softball)


  • A higher standard (i.e. condition of the playing surface) is required for premier/elite level sports (e.g. VFL/AFL football, State/A League soccer etc.) and this necessitates a lower level of usage.


This model forms the basis of TurfSync Pro, a bespoke online portal that assists with managing sportsfields and recreational areas. TurfSync Pro provides real time information, analysis and reporting to support decision making around managing usage, allocating resources and planning capital works by;

  • Streamlining sportsfield condition assessments,
  • Highlighting issues and revealing trends,
  • Determining potential usage based on current condition and agronomic factors,
  • Comparing potential to actual usage to identify overused sportsfields.

Data-backed decision making from turf managers and greenkeepers will help to futureproof facilities.  By giving turf managers and greenkeepers the tools to perform their duties with confidence, TurfSync Pro can save school and council managed sportsfields from additional costs and deterioration and avoid misjudgement of maintenance regimes all year round.  If you would like to find out more about TurfSync Pro, please email or call us on +61 (03) 9558 6514