the study of the kicking components within sports

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Grass Under My Feet

“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled” 
- African proverb
photo by Wackymacs at en.wikipedia

Grass Football Fields
Grass is the stuff that grows naturally and has been around for a long, long time. For purists, it is real (not manmade). It is typically cooler, softer, and more forgiving than the artificial surfaces, which supports the general belief that it “causes” fewer injuries. It is generally more sustainable (environmentally friendly) than the fake stuff, however it does need water, which can be an issue in dry climates. It needs sunlight, which means it cannot grow indoors. It typically requires more maintenance than artificial surfaces. It also does not hold up as well under heavy use or some types of adverse weather.

Grass belongs to the Gramineae plant family, which includes most plants grown as grains, and for lawns and playing surfaces (turf). Commonly used grass types for football fields include Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Tall Fescue, and Bermudagrass, depending on the climate zone in which the field is located. See the following links for additional information on how grass works and on athletic field turf grasses.

The old generation of synthetic turf, Astroturf was one of the brand names; however the term became generically utilized when referring to artificial turf. It was invented by two employees of Monsanto in 1964, and was initially called ChemTurf. The product has since changed owners countless times. In essence, it was a carpet, typically installed over concrete. While it made indoor stadiums a viable venue, its abrasive and unforgiving nature became an issue. Consequently its use declined and the newer artificial turf technologies took hold. In the NFL, Indianapolis and St. Louis were the last to still use Astroturf. They both finally switched over to FieldTurf for the 2005 season.

The new generation of synthetic turf, FieldTurf is one of the brand names; however it has already become a generically used term. The product more closely simulates grass, as opposed to carpeting. The synthetic “grass blades” are typically made of polyethylene. The synthetic “earth” is made of sand and ground up rubber, or just the rubber bits.

Grass vs. Artificial Turf: Preferences & Adjustments
Exactly how do these different surfaces affect the kicking game? We checked with a few people that currently kick or previously kicked for a living...

Jay Feely, Arizona Cardinals kicker
"[FieldTurf]'s helpful because you get better footing, you get consistent footing. On a grass field, even if it’s a real nice grass field, you may hit a loose spot and lose your footing, and that makes it tough to kick and be consistent. Probably the easiest stuff to kick off of is the old Astroturf that nobody has anymore. Sometimes FieldTurf gets thick and you kind of chunk it, like you would hit a golf shot thick."
Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers kicker
"The only difference is in the plant shoe. I wear longer cleats in grass and shorter on turf. Other than that, I do not make big adjustments."
 Joe Nedney, NFL kicker 1996-2010
"Field turf is different than grass, obviously.  Some field turf has longer, thicker synthetic grass blades which makes striking the ball "clean" a little more difficult.  Natural surfaces "give" so if a kicker strikes the ground before the ball, he will make a divot.  Field turf doesn't allow for that.  A kicker's foot may skip off the turf if he hits the ground before the ball, causing a miss-hit.  There is, in my opinion, less margin for error on field turf and striking the ball "clean" becomes that much more important."
 Jeff Reed, NFL kicker 2002-2010
"It depends on the kind of grass and the field you are playing on. It is easier on your body, whether you are a player or a kicker, when you play on grass. At times, when you get mud or sand, you have to adjust your steps because I attack the ball so I don’t want to slip. Field turf is nice because you can always attack the ball whether there is rain or snow. Sometimes, when it snows, if the field turf isn’t heated, there is snow on top of the field, so it is interesting, to say the least. I have had some crummy games dealing with that. Overall, as a kicker, I want grass. If the grass is slick, or it doesn’t hold over an entire season, artificial turf is better for me because I can trust it more."
Ryan Longwell, free agent kicker
"The obvious things with kicking in Lambeau were the wind and the temperature, which were always a factor. Probably a bigger factor that no one really realizes is that the field was always pretty torn up. A lot of the times it was just painted green for TV, and there was really no grass on it. So your footing wasn’t really stable there at times, which was a factor depending on the kick. Kicking in the Metrodome, not having to worry about your foot sticking in the ground is a big advantage....
The biggest [adjustment] is whether or not your plant foot is going to slip or not. On wet or soft grass you have to be able to adjust on the fly if it slips."
Connor Barth, Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker
"To my surprise, when I kicked in the ACC in North Carolina, for the most part all the fields in the ACC were pretty nice. Only one field I think, Wake Forest, was FieldTurf when I played in college. Mostly I kicked all on grass surfaces. And I love kicking off grass, because in North Carolina and South Carolina the ground has a lot of time to grow, they’re just a lot of fun, and the weather is usually pretty mild. Now that I kick in the NFL, the stadiums are only nice for about the first three games or four games. Then they start getting torn up because of the weather and stuff. I love kicking off FieldTurf now.... 

It doesn’t matter how much you play on it, it always stays the same. The big adjustment with the grass in the NFL now is... I don’t know what it is, perhaps there’s more play on it, I guess maybe because the hashes are closer together in the NFL, it gets torn up more. It’s a lot harder to find good spots on the NFL fields I feel. Kicking on FieldTurf, like when I got to kick in Cincinnati and places like that, it was so easy because every spot on the field was nice. It was all flat and there were no disruptions from when people were running around on it. I’m a grass guy, I like kicking off grass because I feel more comfortable. But now that I’ve kicked on more and more FieldTurf fields now that I’ve been in the NFL, I’m kind of leaning towards the FieldTurf just because it’s more of a flat surface and you never have the bumps and divots that you get in grass fields."


John Demello said...

Thank you for highlighting the benefit of astroturf. It is really a good presentation work.

Perfectly Green said...

Really interesting look at artificial grass vs real grass. Great to hear some real opinions!

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Dominic White said...

Can’t believe you have put it so well that even a newbie like me can understand it. Many many thanks.

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