SportSURF introduce new surface research community.

Laurence Gale MScin Training & Education

sportsurf-seminarcolin.jpgMore than sixty delegates were brought together for the first inaugural meeting of SportSURF held at Loughborough University. SportSURF are a newly formed research network group set up to discuss the study of sports surfaces, and their interaction with the users.

Leading figures from the sports surface industry were present in the audience, they included Professor Bill Adams, STRI Chief Executive Dr. Gordon McKillop, Simon Winman of the RFU and figureheads from many other leading manufacturers, research institutes and service providers.

This new group of stakeholders comprising of academics, practitioners, and sports governing bodies assembled for a full days seminar titled 'Sports Surfaces- Current and Future Needs'.
The concept for SportSURF arose when funding was made available from EPSRC to create a network of stakeholders to be brought together to produce an integrated approach to sports surface research and development.

SportSURF was set up in May 2005. The organisation comprises of a number of core committee members from several University establishments who are responsible for carrying out research and development, and SAPCA.

The specific aims and objectives of this new organisation are:

  • To advance the science and understanding of player-surface interactions and innovate the better engineering of surfaces to benefit play and end users health.
  • To create a new interdisciplinary sports surfaces community.
  • To host stimulating meetings / workshops open to all interested parties / stakeholders including a new conference dedicated to this subject area.
  • To transfer ideas, techniques, models and technology between researchers and practitioners.
  • To produce multidisciplinary research proposals.
  • To disseminate network outcomes widely.

Network themes are expected to evolve with time and there will be many issues for the committee to address including focussing on the building of many new sports and training facilities earmarked for the 2012 Olympics.

Technology advances in sports provision are rapidly moving in line with the increasing demand for quality sports surfaces coupled with the high demand for sporting success.

The network group will be looking at many different aspects in regard to sports surface provision. These will include in-depth research into materials, products, services, construction and playability- in respect to both natural and artificial surfaces.

Testing of these surfaces will be stringent with the aim of establishing some common ground rules to help achieve adequate outcomes with regard to quality, performance and player safety.

The network is open to any individual or organisation who is interested in the provision, management and maintenance of sports surfaces, including sports governing bodies. Initially membership is free and members will be kept informed through its dedicated web site and twice yearly newsletter.

The network's objectives will be achieved by a variety of activities. These will include regular focussed workshops, research seminars, project and case studies.

The network's first seminar certainly packed a full day of information and debate. The topics of the day addressed many issues that affect sport surfaces, including the surfaces user perceptions, biomechanics and surface mechanics approach to player -surface interaction, surface evaluation and modelling for player and ball, and the construction and sustainability of these surfaces.

Surface requirements

DR Paul Fleming one of the core committee members and network manager opened up the proceedings with an introduction about SportSURF's aims and objectives .

The introduction was followed by a talk on surface requirements. Dr Fleming spoke about the rapid development of sports surfaces in recent years and how they had affected the nation's perception and use of sports facilities.

Also highlighted was the fact that the current sports industry and research communities had not invested enough money in recent years to produce coherent collaborative research programmes. Thus there were many gaps in knowledge relating to three main areas:

  • Scientific studies required to determine the most appropriate surface design for the benefit of the specific sport.
  • The appropriate protection of users through long-term repeated use (especially for youngsters participating).
  • Technical innovations required to meet sustainability targets.

His presentation did raise some interesting questions about the sports turf industry, particularly with regard to the testing of surface materials and insitu facilities. He also questioned the present methods to accurately measure and determine performance criteria, which in turn could have adverse product performance, notably in the testing of artificial materials and surfaces.

The case for further research and investigation into the measurement and testing of playing surfaces was clearly argued and it is clear the industry must address whether we are doing enough and what should we be testing?


User Requirements

The second speaker was Colin Young from the Department of Civil Engineering, Loughborough University, who gave an informative slant on user requirements.

He began his talk stating that most current pitches were designed and constructed without any prior consultation with the end users. Design was based on the back of a series of standards outlined by the sports governing bodies.

Colin carried out a user survey to find out what the players wanted or expected from a playing surface. Their outcomes were also influenced their standard of play, elite, amateur or beginner?

Each sport has a number of different playing requirements for optimal performance. A surface designed for multi-sports usage will have to comprise certain aspects from each sport. It is also unclear how users change their approach to a sport based on the surface they use.

It is obvious there needs to be more research into the behaviour and expectations of the end user to have a clearer understanding of what the surface should offer in terms of sports performance and player safety.

Player Surface Interaction sportsurf-seminar-iain-jame.jpg

Dr Sharon Dixon and Dr Ian James then discussed the merits of surface playability, describing the interactions of the players and player's equipment. Sports surface engineering has been driven by the requirements to meet specific values for parameters such as ball bounce, ball roll, surface hardness and traction.

Recent research argues that surface engineering must also consider the player-surface interaction, if the provision and performance of sports surfaces is to be improved.

If the design objective for synthetic surfaces is to achieve durable, relatively low maintenance product that is compactable with natural turf, the interaction between players and natural turf surfaces of different types must be investigated.

There are a number of sports however, where natural turf remains the preferred choice and in many locations around the world, natural turf is the only affordable provision for sports participation. Therefore it is important that we continue to look at advancements in both natural and artificial surfaces for sport.

Surface Assessment and Modelling behaviour

Dr Matt Carre spoke briefly on the need to monitor and evaluate mechanical behaviour that occurs on sports surfaces. A combination of lab and field-testing are essential to establish certain model information, for example recent studies have looked at studded boot traction, looking how different stud sizes and patterns can change the performance of the boot and its interaction with the surface.

Dr Carre also informed the delegates about a series of ball measuring tests that can monitor the performance of tennis and cricket balls used on different surfaces. These tests measured the hardness of surfaces using the Clegg Hammer and ball drop devices.


Surface Characteristics

Colin Walker spoke passionately about the need to evaluate how modern surfaces, particularly the new 3rd generation artificial surfaces affect the player's body, in respect of injuries. Primarily most of the testing has been carried out to confirm quality control and to ensure the client has received the product they are paying for. He pointed out that very little testing has been carried on monitoring the performance of the playing surface in relation to player injury.

Research has recently started on a series of testing regimes that use a specialised portable torsion/traction/ loading system to measure these parameters. Preliminary trials have been carried out on natural and artificial pitches.

A consensus is developing that injury is multifactorial- i.e. a combination of the player, his state of fitness, the pitch, the way the game is played and the pitch / footwear interaction.

Since the direct measurement of muscle forces is problematic, one may model the leg while running, using a simplified set of muscles and attachments. This is showing promise for assessing how muscle forces change with changes in pitch characteristics.

The future will then look towards a regime in which a test procedure may be integrated with model studies to assess the correct properties of pitch and footwear and focus on how athletes should train to avoid injury.

sportsurf-seminar-abbott.jpg Mike Abbott gave a short introduction, explaining how pitches degrade over time, and thus result in surface deterioration from use and poor maintenance operations. Mike showed a number of slides depicting surface problems e.g. surface flooding, algae and weed growth. These problems are usually caused by poor installation and lack of basic maintenance procedures.

Sports Injuries and Surfaces

The final presentation was by Professor Mark Batt from the Centre of Sports Medicine, Nottingham, his talk began with a quote by Janda 1997.

It is the responsibility of every healthcare provider within the field of sport medicine to enhance injury surveillance techniques and make the practice of prevention of injury, the rule, and not the exception".

A number of slides were also shown detailing interesting data regarding sports injuries that occur on grass and artificial surfaces.

Afternoon activities

If that was not enough, after a satisfying lunch break the delegates were split into four groups to discuss issues In regard to the following questions, each group focussing on a particular one.

The questions asked were:

  • Effects of surfaces on the player / users with in regard to performance.
  • Effects of surfaces on the player / users in regard to injuries/health.
  • Evaluation / measurement of surface mechanical properties.
  • Innovation for design and manufacture including whole life performance.

sportsurf-seminar-table.jpg The consensus was there was plenty of work to be done with regard to the testing and monitoring of playing surfaces and some meaningful long-term health studies. The groups agreed that research and data is required relating to what surfaces we need to produce for players of all ages and for all sports. Groups also argued that systems must be established to effectively ensure the correct long-term maintenance regimes are in place to maintain and sustain these facilities .


The day generated a number of interesting discussion topics and future considerations for SportSURF to consider. Of primary concern to all in attendance was ensuring that key stakeholders within the industry i.e. governing bodies, research scientists, sports companies, manufacturers, clients and those who participate in sport, work more closely together and develop more cohesive policies and technical guidance. It is only then that effective injury prevention will occur and the health of all participating in sport will improve, as will the quality of sports facilities and the UK expertise both commercially and academically.

If you are interested in becoming a member of SportSURF you can visit their website and sign-up. You can download the presentations and a feedback form from the launch seminar and will be kept informed of future events. Alternatively you can contact Colin Young ( the network coordinator for more information.

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Training & education