3G artificial surfaces – useful, but no silver bullet

Technology and society marches on, often for the better, but certainly not always and progress is often subject to opinion and perception.

An interesting news article has just appeared (21st December 2015) on Kent Online: ‘Maidstone United co-owner Oliver Ash reveals 3G pitch at Gallagher Stadium may need replacing in two years’.

This article isn’t about the benefits or limitations of 3G surfaces in contrast to natural turf, but a specific view point on the need to be aware of a false belief in silver bullets which will apparently solve all your perceived problems and what a solution can be.

Suppliers of 3G carpets often claim 8 years, or more, is what should be expected from these expensive surfaces, however, the reality can often be different, especially if effective maintenance practices and management requirements (especially managing usage) are misunderstood and misapplied.

This Kent Online article brought to mind the argument of Frederick Brooks in his classic article in 1986* about computer software and the premise that there is no silver bullet, ‘No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering’, in creating low cost, effective, software. New software is often seen as the best thing to solve all your problems – until it is deployed and then issues and problems invariably arise. One of the most expensive failures being the NHS IT system that wasted around £10 billion after being abandoned in 2013.

“I believe the hard part of building software to be the specification, design, and testing of this conceptual construct, not the labor of representing it and testing the fidelity of the representation. ….. building software will always be hard. There is inherently no silver bullet.” (F. Brooks)

I think this is analogous to the rationale for the installation of artificial 3G pitches. They are an ideal surface, which are constructed (usually) to high specifications, within urban areas where outdoor space is limited. However, the importance of effectively maintaining and managing these surfaces doesn’t seem to be explained  in a way that ensures owners, finance-, grounds- and facility-managers understand what is required to ensure pitch longevity (and ultimately financial viability). This is the hard part (in Brook’s argument) in the provision of 3G surfaces, i.e. the aftercare and management, which is analogous with his building of software being the hard part.

How many investors, with the odd £0.5Million, and more to invest would not mitigate against reducing potential losses and reinforce the opportunity to maximum return on their investment? Attending a training course would normally be part of the mitigation process and this would all be wrapped up in a viable and ideally sustainable business model.

There are many variables in the maintenance and management of artificial 3G pitches, just like natural turfgrass surfaces, yet there appears to be a common misconception amongst many providers and particularly the general public that an artificial surface essentially means no maintenance and as much usage as you like. This couldn’t be further from the truth, so no silver bullet here I’m afraid.

Considering “The aim of this blog is to offer some thoughts on technology and learning within Groundsmanship“, this is very relevant to the point I’ve just made about mitigating “against reducing potential losses and reinforce the opportunity to maximum return on … investment.”

In the UK there is just one industry recognised one-day 3G specific training course which provides participants with comprehensive information on what is needed to effectively maintain a 3G surface. The course was created earlier in 2015 to meet the needs of those involved in maintaining and managing these surfaces. Industry experts,  Replay Maintenance, Redexim Charterhouse and the Institute of Groundsmanship , who provide the training, worked together to develop this course, with input from other industry experts. [Note: I have a vested interest here as I work for the IOG]

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), many businesses recognise that “Investing in people improves staff morale and retention, attracts the best people to the organisation, and boosts productivity and performance.”

Investing in staff through training to raise awareness of appropriate skills and knowledge needed to protect an expensive 3G investment is a bit of a no brainer, but unfortunately this is often an overlooked part of a manager’s budget for various reasons.

Conclusion

Whilst there are no silver bullets in sports turf provision and maintenance there are many ways to mitigate against a business plan going off the rails. Providing employees with specific professional training can ensure that optimum use is made of often limited resources. Using correct working practices (in contrast to often poor working practices) in the maintenance of 3G surfaces will save not only on expensive repair bills but is essential if longevity, player satisfaction, a return on investment and an overall successful outcome is to be achieved.

Lifelong Learning: It should be a pleasure and not a chore; I love it and am hoping others see the excitement that can be gained from learning something new.

*Frederick P. Brooks, “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering”, Computer, Vol. 20, No. 4 (April 1987).  Originally an invited paper for the International Federation for Information Processing Conference in 1986

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