Turf vs. Grass

By | March 31, 2015

With the upcoming women’s World Cup, soccer fans around the world have been fixated on one of the major differences that this year’s World Cup will bring to the pitch, turf fields. Turf has emerged as a top option in many areas. Some of its major advantages over grass include its consistency as a medium, making for a smooth even playing surface that doesn’t surprise players as grass can. Another advantage is that turf requires little maintenance and is not as sensitive as grass, making it great for wet conditions where playing on grass could result in ruining the field. In hot climates turf is often non-ideal as underneath the blades of artificial grass is rubber that can heat up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit  on a hot day as opposed to soil which can heat up to about 98 degrees Fahrenheit. While it emulates grass quite well, turf is a considerably different medium and can change the game significantly.

Playing on turf is different in several ways; it changes the pace of the game, the rate at which players slide-tackle, and potentially the amount of time it takes for players to recover after each game. The consistently short blades of grass and consistency of the field (free from ruts and bumps) allow the ball to move quickly and easily across the surface, allowing for faster movement. Players are also less inclined to slide-tackle, a common defensive play especially at the high level, due to the fact that turf is much rougher and less forgiving than grass and sliding on it often results in painful turf burns. Additionally some studies on American football have found that ACL injuries are more common on turf fields than grass fields. American soccer player Alex Morgan has said quite a bit on the difference between turf and grass, commenting that “When I play on turf, my legs can pulse and ache for up to 24 hours and it could take 3-5 days to recover, whereas grass, after 24 hours I’m ready to play again.”. Finally one of the health concerns related to turf has to do with the rubber beads that soften the turf. These beads are made of chopped up scrap rubber that contains carcinogens, which have been shown to cause cancer after significant exposure.

All-in-all, turf is a considerably different medium than grass. With a faster pace of play, a different feel to the ground, and a potentially more dangerous surface turf will prove to be an interesting addition to the game at a global scale during the womens World Cup. Hopefully this will result in a greater amount of information about turf, including the benefits and the risk that it poses.

10 thoughts on “Turf vs. Grass

  1. stonedepotus

    I found the comprehensive analysis of the various factors at play and the potential long-term effects on athletes due to playing on artificial turf to be particularly insightful. What resonated with me the most was the statement made by oliver. It underscores the utmost importance of listening to the athletes and taking their feedback into account, as they are the lifeblood of the sport (after all, who would we watch without them?). The substantial variance in recovery times is a critical consideration, and the decrease in slide-tackling is a compelling indicator of the pitch’s demanding nature. Athletes already endure rigorous training regimens that place immense strain on their bodies, and introducing a playing surface that extends recovery times (along with the associated risk of injuries) appears to be an unjustifiable risk.

  2. Patrick

    I played soccer in high school and D1 college. Almost all games were on grass. One team played in their huge football stadium and was turf (really bad back then). So when I watch high school games I have a very trained eye. I coached for years – on grass. The ball moving faster on the ground is an aspect that players can adjust to.
    The ball bouncing twice as high as on grass is not. I see so many times a player take a ball out of the air and where it would normally be dead on the ground instead it will bounce again, giving enough time for a defender to get in their and tackle. It is ruining high soccer. It becomes a kick and run game. Also it limits what players can do. For example, when I pushed a ball by a defender I would elevate the push a few inches off the ground and high enough to go over a foot from a desperate lunge but not high enough for the defender to realize the ball is in the air. This is what all the great dribblers do. Extremely hard to do well on turf, to get your foot under the ball. It becomes easy for a school to put in turf and then have all teams, Football, Soccer, Field hockey, Lacrosse play on it. I do not think it adversely affects Lacrosse and field hockey. But football players would like to be tackled on grass rather than turf and soccer is not soccer on turf. I remember in high school that one football game on grass during a rainy day ruined the field. It would become mud for 20 yards wide the length of the field. So I do understand the problem especially if you do not have the real estate to maintain a high level grass field, even more than one so you can cycle to a different field while the other field recovers. Soccer is doomed in the USA.

  3. Michael

    Making slide tackles on turf pitches is actually fun when it’s raining.

  4. Kevon Robinson

    Its really a fantastic blog as well … I can’t stay without appreciating the way your blog is concluded so nicely… Thanks for sharing & your kind attention to detail!!!

  5. Leah Ling

    Interesting read, Carlos! I was lucky to be able to attend a Q&A session with Jill Ellis in August when the USWNT was in town to play a match against Switzerland. When asked about the turf vs. grass issue with regard to the upcoming Women’s World Cup, Ellis politely cited her disappointment with how many games their team has to play on turf these days. The match against Switzerland was held at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, a beautiful, intimate facility which boasts a grass stadium field as well as numerous grass training fields. According to Ellis, when the team first arrived at WakeMed Soccer Park to have a few training sessions in anticipation of the Switzerland game, Abby Wambach fell to her knees and kissed the grass. Hopefully the players will be successful in advocating for more grass field usage after the Women’s World Cup.

  6. Harrison Kalt


    Great post! Like many before me have said, I was previously unknowledgeable in regards to the movement made towards turf for the upcoming Women’s World Cup. Nonetheless, I remember from my own experiences with the game that I actually preferred playing on a turf field for a number of reasons. First and foremost, because of how easy it is to maintain, the average turf field throughout Los Angeles was far superior in terms of maintenance than the ordinary grass field that was withered up by Los Angeles’ dry heat and filled with dirt spots and ditches that made controlling the ball incredibly difficult.

    However, I never quite understood the difference in recovery time that grass and turf fields provide. After reading this article, I think that, like Spencer said, this issue is extremely important. Taking into account how tiring these big tournaments are on some of soccer’s elite players, we must consider changing the pitches to suit our athletes and allow them to be best conditioned and poised to play world-class soccer. I believe that this will be an important discussion for FIFA throughout the next couple of years.

  7. Raya

    Thanks for sharing! I will be doing a detailed analysis of the use of turf in the upcoming women’s world cup, so I look forward to referencing this article.

  8. Connor Shannahan

    Great post! Hopefully FIFA listens to the players when they make any future decisions regarding turf though it appears turf is finalized for this summer. The players actually disliked turf so much that they sued FIFA over their planned use of it; however, the suit was dropped earlier this year when an expedited hearing was rejected. The suit was backed by a number of top players including Abby Wambach due to concerns over increased injury.

  9. Aissa Huysmans

    I appreciate the detailed description of some of the variations in play and long term effects on the players as a result of the turf, and really what struck me the most was the quote from Morgan. I think it’s incredibly important to listen to the players and their reactions, as ultimately they are the ones who make the game what it is (otherwise who would we go watch?). A difference in recovery time is a HUGE factor to consider, and the fact that players are less likely to slide-tackle is in itself evidence enough too of the toughness of the pitch. Players undergo such intense training irregardless of the pitch they play on (training that is already incredibly arduous for the body), and I think adding onto it playing on a surface that will increase recovery time (and potential for injury) is just an unnecessary risk.

  10. Spencer Davidson


    Great post! I was previously unaware of the movement towards turf for this year’s Women’s World Cup, but I do agree that it is definitely a topic that fans should be aware of as it may have a significant impact on some games. I remember from my playing career that I did in fact enjoy playing on turf as opposed to grass for a few reasons. For me, as a striker, I enjoyed the fast-paced game that was brought about by playing on turf fields; through balls were more likely to get past the defense and into open space for me to work, and often times kicks from the defense would take large bounces that could throw off the defenders. It also was more suitable for rainy conditions, something that was common in New York during the soccer season. There were no puddles or mud that could disturb the flow of the game on turf fields like there may have been on grass fields.

    On another note, I never realized the difference in recovery time between turf and grass fields. We practiced on a turf field every day, so maybe I became used to it. However, this is a crucial factor that may have an effect on a good amount of teams during the tournament. Perhaps it will lead to more injuries, or maybe the players will be less prepared for their next game as they will be focused on recovering a little more than usual. If these factors become a major concern, maybe FIFA will have to reconsider their decision in future tournaments…


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