There have been a lot of new playing surfaces emerging that act as a replacement for grass. As great as natural grass is, it is very expensive to maintain consistently.
That is why artificial grass and turf are taking over more and more soccer fields around the globe. While the words might appear to be interchangeable, that is not exactly the case. There is a difference between artificial grass and turf, and players need to know to prepare.
What Is Turf?
Turf is more of a catch-all type of label for different types of synthetic materials used to replace grass. Not all of them are created equally, as turf has come a long way since first appearing in the AstroDome.
Whether it was baseball, soccer, or any other field sport, Astroturf was the first option available. It served its purpose to a certain degree, but it is very old and virtually obsolete these days. Not only has technology come a long way, but it has been deemed unsafe in the eyes of many.
Not only was Astroturf thin, but it often had very hard surfaces underneath. Some players have had pretty severe injuries on Astroturf, or their careers cut significantly shorter than they originally thought.
Technically speaking, artificial grass is a type of turf as well. Most people distinguish between the two options so that there is no confusion whatsoever. Cheaper turf options might be suitable for surfaces that are used sparingly, or covered just for show.
The reason why the word “turf” was replaced with “artificial grass” has as much to do with branding as anything else. Since so many people look at turf as being obsolete, artificial grass comes off as much better.
What Is Artificial Grass?
As of right now, artificial grass is the most popular synthetic grass on the market today. It works very much the same as natural grass, and it is a huge improvement over that first version of turf. Officially, artificial grass is also known as third-generation turf.
Professional teams use artificial grass as a full replacement for natural grass in numerous sports. It is very hard to distinguish between the two from a distance, but they will see some small differences as a person gets closer. For example, artificial grass is still a bit more abrasive than natural grass, and there is obviously sand and rubber underneath instead of dirt.
There is no mud accumulating during rainy days with artificial grass, which helps get teams back on the field during inclement weather. The weather delays are significantly reduced with artificial grass installed.
For soccer, FIFA has rigorous requirements to make sure that every field is playable enough. Teams need to install high-grade artificial grass, and it needs to simulate what natural grass fields play like as well. They will do tests such as looking at all the materials underneath the grass, as well as bouncing balls off the ground and seeing how natural it reacts.
Artificial Grass VS Turf: What To Expect
Playing soccer is a little bit different on artificial grass and turf. For example, everything from how the ball acts to what type of footwear a person should have makes all the difference in the world.
Artificial grass works much better than turf as far as playability is concerned. Most teams are doing whatever possible to stay away from having to play on old-school turf, given the fact that it is so different.
Teams playing on artificial grass consistently are said to have a slight advantage over teams not used to the surface, but there are ways to get around that. Some teams will find a facility to practice before a big match on artificial grass to simulate the experience.
A lot of players will complain about the amount of heat that comes off of artificial turf when it is already warm outside. Old-school turf is worse as far as heat is concerned, as there can be visible waves coming off the ground when it reaches a certain temperature. Artificial grass is slightly better, but it still is slightly warmer than natural grass.
Companies are trying to close the gap as much as possible, but the technology is not quite there yet to eliminate the amount of heat coming off the synthetic material. That will be one of the major focuses for the next generation of turf.
Soccer cleats are an essential part of playing the game. When a player is on an artificial surface, they likely need to switch their cleats to something much more suitable. It is extremely important to change to something different when on old-school turf, but artificial grass shoes are a little more like what people use on natural grass.
With the flatter old turf, players need soleplates that are very low profile. There is nothing to really dig in on the ground, so players will be putting themselves at a pretty big disadvantage if they try to wear traditional cleats. Not only will and make it harder to move around, but players could lose their footing altogether.
Artificial grass cleats generally have rounded rubber studs as a way to balance everything out. A player does not need to dig in as deep as they would with natural grass, but they do need a little bit of length since they act so similarly.
Getting the right footwear for any type of surface will be the best way to prevent any type of injury from occurring. So many players throughout soccer history have suffered pretty tough injuries just because their foot gets stuck in a weird way. All it takes is a little bit of pressure on a foot or leg to cause someone to have to head to the hospital.
The Future of Artificial Grass
Even though there are plenty of purists out there who thoroughly enjoy natural grass competition in soccer, technology is getting to the point that it makes sense for more and more facilities to install a synthetic option. Not only does it help with maintenance costs, but it holds up and looks great for a longer amount of time.
Grass can only take so much abuse on a daily basis before it starts to look really worn out, or die completely. It also has smaller advantages, such as less staining of clothing or damage to equipment overall.
As for old-school turf, that option is pretty much fading away forever. It is not used as a competitive surface for soccer (or any sport for that matter at this time). There are just too many limitations to this archaic option, so facilities are investing more money into making sure they get a newer surface. The only first generation turf still around are at obsolete facilities that are likely rarely used.
Whenever a new version of artificial grass starts to hit the market, expect it to make another considerable leap. Companies are looking into cutting down injuries as much as possible, and taking all of the positives from natural grass over to the synthetic side. When the gap is closed even more, naysayers will find it hard to he strongly against any synthetic surfaces.
Buying Cleats For Any Surface
The more soccer a player plays, the more surfaces they will come across. It is important to be able to be prepared for any type of surface with the proper footwear. It is not uncommon for a player to at least have 2-3 pairs of cleats for different surfaces at all times.
Here are my current recommendations for each surface:
Other than footwear, the game is mostly staying the same. Soccer teams are benefiting from artificial grass, and the trend is only growing. Fortunately, old-school turf is almost extinct, keeping players healthier overall.