ARTIFICIAL TURF’S INFLUENCE OVER AMATEUR SOCCER KEEPS GROWING
Fifteen minutes into his team’s Class AAA state championship game at Mercer University, West Hall striker Sammy Coto was pouring ice water into his boots, trying to adjust to the new feeling of the AstroTurf at Five Star Stadium.By the end of his team’s 3-1 win over Dalton, the senior said he thought synthetic turf would become the wave of the future for student-athletes.
“There’s definitely an adjustment period,” he said. “But once I did adjust, I felt myself running a lot faster, I could handle (the ball) better. I felt faster, and could beat the defenders.”For many West Hall Spartans, the state title game was the first time they had trained or played on surfaces other than natural grass.
But the lure of synthetic turf’s long term viability may be a reason for high schools, parks and recreation departments and colleges in the Southeast to switch from natural grass options to attract tournaments, fans and players.“Purists will prefer grass, but the popularity of synthetic will continue to grow,” said Matt Henson, AstroTurf’s regional sales manager for the Southeast. “It’s the busiest I’ve seen in my 10 years of being in the industry. Schools, parks and recreation, colleges, it’s growing and will continue to grow in the future.”
The Georgia High School Association (GHSA) had originally planned for its 2015 high school soccer state championships to be held at Kennesaw State University and Emory University, but a scheduling snafu meant the organization turned to Mercer University.The GHSA is now in the middle of a 2-year contract with the university, which will end in 2016, according to associate director Tommy Whittle.
Coto said he felt that the artificial surface locked in heat and affected dribbling, passing and making runs in ways that felt different than on natural grass.“In the beginning, it was tough for me to have a good control of the ball,” said Coto. “But the ground was also harder, so it felt better for us when we were running.”
Whittle said he had heard no complaints from players or coaches after teams played 12 state title games over three days at Five Star Stadium.He said that synthetic turf fields are becoming a part of the norm in Georgia high school sports. The high school football state championships have been held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which was built with a synthetic field, for several years.
“All I’ve heard from coaches is how great the facilities are,” he said. “If we put more and more demands on a field, the turf will put up with it more than natural grass does.”Synthetic turf has become a hot-button issue ahead of this summer’s 2015 Women’s World Cup.A group of high-profile women’s soccer players, including Abby Wambach of the United States and Marta of Brazil, recently withdrew a lawsuit that fought FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association’s plan to use artificial turf at its stadiums for the tournament.
Coto said he felt his feet “burning” as he stepped out onto the surface at Five Star Stadium, while teammate Simon Cobian said his fellow teammates didn’t know what to expect with playing on the synthetic surface.“Professional players are probably used to this. I know a lot of training grounds have that kind of turf,” said Cobian. “But it’s hard to get used to. When you slide, you’re geting burned by the heat and the turf. It might cause people not to slide as much.”
But artificial turf’s popularity is rising in the Southeast.There are 19 listed AstroTurf playing fields in the state of Georgia, including the Georgia State University football field and the practice facility of the Georgia Bulldogs football team, as well as sites at seven high schools.
Synthetic turf is now partially used at Manchester United’s Old Trafford, as well as the Bernabeau in Madrid. AstroTurf says the company is currently seeing an 18 percent increase in sales over this time in 2014.Henson said the allure of indoor practice facilities is trickling into the Southeast.
“It’s about keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. “The beauty of indoor is that they’re not exposed to the weather, and that extends the life of the turf.”Coto and Cobian think the future will lie with synthetic turf, for better or worse. Coto said it allowed him to make quicker passes and felt more buoyant than if he was on regular grass. Cobian said his crosses bounced higher, which made him adjust to how he needed to trap a pass.
“The speed of play is much different,” said Cobian. “I think players will have to work more on their speed and agility to take it on better.”