Pitch presentation: Impact on sustainability

Has the drive for a ‘perfect pitch’ negatively impacted on pitch sustainability?

We all want to see a well-presented sports pitch, but have we taken our eye off the bigger picture of sustainability by trying to create a perfect pitch (however that actually is defined)?

I’ve been thinking about the Performance Quality Standards framework which is used as an objective measure of the condition of a pitch.

One of the three categories within the framework deals with ‘Presentational Quality’; the others being Structural Quality and Playing Quality.

Have grounds managers been unduly influenced by comments and perceptions of others within and outwith the industry, in particular, to strive for a ‘perfect pitch’? This may actually be unachievable and also financially costly, and from an environment perspective is undesirably stressful to the grass plant.

Presentational quality can be considered as a component (or sub-set) of social sustainability which is especially influenced by others. In essence this is a psychological driver which can negatively impact on the sustainability of a pitch.

An average pitch can be made to look much better than it is by being well presented; this can be a real benefit to a groundsman. Unfortunately when we have an excellent pitch, the presentation is excellent, which is certainly a good outcome. However, the desire to provide additional ‘attention to detail’, in basic terms this is to tinker, to somehow try and make it better than what is already excellent is questionable.

The psychological desire to continue to be seen to improve may actually be causing more harm than good, or may not be adding any benefit at all. There are many motives at play here, but throwing additional and often unnecessary resources at a situation which is already excellent and may not actually be able to be improved on will be negatively impacting on the sustainability of a pitch (i.e. through increasing / wasting resources).

TV pundits, managers, coaches, sports commentators and the media have little concern or interest in what is needed in maintaining a sports pitch yet they will either comment on how good a pitch is (well, sometimes), or more likely make a disparaging remark if there appears to be a minor issue with a pitch, or even if nothing is wrong with the pitch but with it being used as an excuse for poor player performance (i.e. they lost).

The desire to reduce the chance of any negative comment happening again psychologically drives groundstaff to search for that (elusive) ‘perfect pitch’,  having misunderstood that often they already have the most excellent pitch possible (which is actually the perfect pitch). Over engineering and overcomplicating work programmes will negatively impact on the grass plant, creating conditions which will more likely reduce the chances of maintaining an ideal playing surface in a sustainable (i.e. for the long-term) way.

This raises another most fundamental question of ‘What is meant by sustainability when applied to sports pitches?

This is a subject I’ll explore in future blogs, but for now you will often see people post on social media that they have a ‘sustainable pitch’, often in October time which is only partly into the football playing season and growth is still good, or they have changed from one type of material input to a ‘more greener’ one. What we are seeing here is a clear attempt to engage with the concept, but a clear misunderstanding of the wider holistic approach needed to define, manage and then evaluate the process of sustainable management (sustainable development) and the outcome of sustainability (i.e. the end point, if there actually ever is an end point).

Chris Gray: December 15, 2016


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