Why Fields Are Closed When The Sun Shines

Bermuda TurfOur soccer complex has been closed one week today, due to an extended rain storm where it rained almost non stop from Friday through Monday. Yet the fields will still be closed today on Thursday, even though it has been sunny and beautiful out yesterday and today. Many parents and coaches don’t understand why the fields need to be closed when they look dry and it’s been sunny out. We’ve gotten many emails from coaches asking why their team has to miss yet another practice, so we decided to tell them. In excruciating detail.

So if you’ve ever wondered why your fields are still closed when the sun is shining, read on. This is an email we sent to our league explaining exactly why we close the fields and why it’s so important.

Subject: More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Turf and Field Closings

Coaches/Parents,

A few people have contacted the league, upset that we’ve lost so much practice and asking why, when the weather is so nice now, are the fields still closed? So if you want to understand what goes into making the decisions and why they don’t seem consistent, read on. Otherwise – click delete :)

The grass on the soccer and baseball fields is a Bermuda variant called Tifsport. Bermuda is much different than the grass on your lawn. It has VERY deep roots (allowing for high drought tolerance) and it also can repair itself. It grows sideways with runners that grow along the surface of the ground or just underneath called rhizomes, which over time can fill in bare spots. A mature turf, like the baseball fields, will have almost 1″ of rhizomes on top of the ground. That’s why we put sand down on the fields in the summer – it’s much easier for the rhizomes to spread in that than clay, but it can still take years to really fill in bare spots. Our fields are not as mature, so the rhizome layer is still pretty thin, and weaker. When you play on it, your cleats are held more by this layer of rhizomes than the dirt, especially when it’s dry. So they can experience significant shearing forces from normal soccer play.

When the fields turn brown, the turf isn’t dead. It’s dormant. A common misconception is that when the grass ‘comes back’ in the Spring, it all grows out of the ground. Not true – the green grass sprouts from the rhizomes. So what appears to be a layer of dead roots is actually dormant turf. Bermuda turf is so thick because of this – the grass sprouts from all these crisscrossed rhizomes above the ground. The lush green grass we love to play on grows out of that brown dead-looking layer of roots we see during the winter. If that dormant layer is ripped off, then you’ll only get some grass sprouting up from the tap roots below the surface.

So to protect the turf, we have to protect those rhizomes. That’s why bare spots in front of the goals, where the rhizomes have been ripped out/broken off due to the concentrated wear, take longer to fill in, sometimes a year or two. They can only sprout from the roots below – to fill in the rhizomes have to spread across the surface. So we move the fields around giving those areas time to heal. But more widespread damage to the turf would be hard to avoid and would take years to fill in.

So in short – what appears dead and brown is really the base for a lush green field in the summer. Wear it down to bare dirt, and the turf will be very thin and spotty. So we need to protect it as much as possible.

When it rains – it’s not how much rain we got necessarily, but how LONG it rained. If it pours one day when the fields are dry, it’s the standing water that’ll keep you from playing that evening – balls don’t roll well. The turf will be fine, because the dirt is still very firm – most of the water has run off or is on top of the dirt. That’s why we’ll play IN the rain or when the fields are mostly dry – but splash up water when you run on them, if it only rained for a short period. The rhizomes are still firmly anchored in the ground so when you run/cut with cleats, they hold, even if the thin top layer of dirt is muddy and there’s water on top of the dirt.

But when you have steady rain for many days in a row, the ground gets very soft and the mud goes deep. It becomes very easy to tear the turf out of the ground in patches, because the ground is so soft. Even if the thin top layer of dirt seems dry from the sun, the inch or so of dirt below it will still be soft. Then it becomes very easy to tear the turf up, and as you’ve all seen in front of the goals (where it just wears down in normal use), once that layer of turf is gone, it takes a lot of time for it to fill back in, especially when the fields are in almost constant use.

In very cold weather (below freezing) we close the field because if the rhizomes are frozen, simply walking on them can destroy the frozen internal cellular structure and kill the dormant layer. So even without rain, there are times we’ll close the fields.

And this is why it can seem like we’re rolling dice when we make decisions to open/close the fields. It can pour buckets for half a day, and we’re open within 24 hours. Some water is on the ground, but the ground is firm. Play on and hope the goalie’s like mud – because their area is already bare. Yet it can moderately rain for a few days in a row, and we’re closed for a week. We got less rain, but what we did get didn’t just run off, it soaked in deep, loosening the turf. We get rain that starts right before games and we play anyway. Yet it’s sunny and warm out for a few days after an extended rain storm, and we’re closed. Seems to not make sense – but hopefully now you see what goes into making these decisions. We want to protect our beautiful fields so the turf remains thick to endure the constant playing of soccer. As anyone has seen on field 1 near the bathrooms, once the turf is worn down to dirt, it’s very weak and very muddy. Our goal is to not have other fields end up like that.

So we appreciate everyone’s concern about missing practices. But a few missed practices now can mean plusher greener turf later in the season and in the Fall. We appreciate everyone’s patience and hopefully the rain will stay away tonight and we’ll be on the pitch playing matches tomorrow.

Feel free to edit and send to your own league if you think it’ll help.

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