Introduction

The groundsman must consider many factors when deciding on the most appropriate way of maintaining a pitch. These range from the local site conditions, such as soil type and drainage characteristics as well the weather conditions, to the frequency of play, resources (finances, equipment and people) available to them.

Knowledge and experience

Deciding what maintenance is required will require a high degree of knowledge and continual monitoring of the natural turf playing surfaces throughout the year. Considered judgements will be required about the extent and timing of a range of maintenance activities such as mowing, aeration, and the use of fertilisers etc.

See the A-Z of groundsmanship for a glossary of the key terms and links that discuss common maintenance techniques in more detail. 

For information on who can help you and where you can access training go to the ‘Further help and guidance’.

Observation and monitoring

A key component of the groundsman’s armoury is observation. It is an essential skill for the volunteer as well as the professional groundsman. Looking at the grass playing surface and assessing what it tells you about the potential playing characteristics and the health of the grass plant will enable decisions to be made about the management and maintenance of a pitch.

As well as looking for making an assessment at a point in time the groundsman is also looking for trends over time. For example is the amount of grass cover increasing or decreasing due to excessive play or following overseeing. The groundsman can share these observations with more experienced groundsmen to get there view and support as to what they mean and what needs to be done.

“A key component of the groundsman’s armoury is observation”

There are some very scientific ways of assessing pitches for performance and quality however, some of the simplest are still some of the best. For example, the length of the grass can be gauged against the soles of a boots or shoes and the effectiveness of drainage can seem by the degree of ‘squelch’ underfoot or the length of time that water remains on the surface after heavy rain.

The degree that a fork dropped from shoulder height will stick in, or bounce off of the surface can also indicate if the pitch is too hard. All of these basic techniques, as well as some of the more scientific ones, are covered in these modules.

Sports specific requirements and quality

Depending on the age group and level of competition each sport has its own set of requirements for pitch dimensions and pitch quality and it is the groundsman’s responsibility to ensure that these are achieved throughout the season. 

Pitch dimensions

Information on the critical dimensions for each sport can be found in the sports specific sections.

Pitch Quality

Each sport has their own standards of quality and these are referred to as the Performance Quality Standards (PQSs). These provide clear objective measurements to be taken on the pitch and will demonstrate whether the pitch is to the standard required for the level of competition and will give an indication of what areas require improvement.

To carry out a formal PQS a range of equipment and training is needed and most clubs will need to obtain the services of an experienced groundsman, pitch advisor or sports turf agronomist.

For many clubs the pitch quality can be assessed using more traditional techniques and equipment and further guidance can be found in the core module ‘Assessing your Pitch’.

Further information on the formal pitch quality assessments (PQS) can be found in the sport specific sections.

Maintenance equipment

There is a very wide range of equipment available for maintaining grass pitches ranging from small hand tools to large pieces of powered equipment. What equipment is needed by a club is dependent on many factors such as local ground conditions, the number of pitches, the financial resources and most importantly the skills and training of the groundsman who will use and operate the equipment. All clubs will require a basic level of maintenance equipment and further information on this can be found in the module ‘What basic equipment is required'.

Many clubs will need to use a specialist contractor and you can find further information in the module ‘Employing a Specialist contractor'.

Materials

Many maintenance operations will require additional materials such as grass seed, sand, top soil, fertilisers etc. The core module ‘Buying Materials’ will provide you with further guidance on how to go about obtaining the right materials for the job, at a good price and without unnecessary effort.

Seasonal management and programming use

Natural grass has to be managed as well as maintained if it is provide the quality and reliability expected and needed. The groundsman in partnership with the club officials, the coaches and the players, will need to ensure that the pitch achieves and maintains its optimum performance throughout the playing season. They will need to work together to ensure that the pitch use is effectively managed by:

  • Providing sufficient time for end of season/pre-season maintenance work, which may mean the pitch is out of action for galas or non-sporting use
  • Limiting the amount of use for matches and training to suit the pitch capacity (see core module ‘How much use can a pitch take’)
  • Avoiding, where possible the use of high wear areas for specific training activities eg use mobile goals for goalie or penalty training rather than the real goal mouth
  • Taking account of the seasonal and prevailing weather conditions. Training on a wet and heavy pitch, in winter when the pitch has no time to recover, can damage the pitch beyond just the next match.

For typical seasonal management guidance refer to the sports specific seasonal management sections.

Health and Safety considerations

By effectively maintaining the grass pitch the club is doing all that can be done to protect the player from injury however, the club have wider responsibilities to ensure that they are looking after their members, visitors and in particular the grounds maintenance team. Protecting the groundsmen means ensuring that they have the correct well maintained equipment and are properly and qualified to use it.

Further information and guidance can be found in the core module ‘Health and Safety Considerations’.