As part of “ThinkDifferent”, I have repeatedly made the statement that “within 5 years, there WILL be a natural grass alternative to synthetic turf.” That is a statement that the natural grass industry is closer to than any of us realize. Through combining the best technologies and techniques with creative thinking… we are close! No one has any idea what the future holds!
During a recent visit to France, I got a peek into what the future does hold for natural grass fields and us as Grass Field Managers. For possibly the first time ever, two grass field agronomists (Mr. Chris Hague from Denmark and myself) spent several hours in a NeuroMusculoskeletal Biomechanics lab with some of France’s top research and medical specialists. Country and western singer Brad Paisley’s 2009 hit “Welcome to the Future” played in my mind as we were exposed to research on the interaction between players and the field surface from a scientific, biomechanics perspective. Or maybe the more proper song would have been the introduction to the “Twilight Zone“, as we truly were introduced to an entirely new dimension in which grass fields soon will be moving. Either song is fitting. And the opportunity Chris and I had to be introduced to some exciting new ideas technology for natural grass fields was game changing. Let’s take a quick look:
The group Natural Grass is responsible for the game changing ideas and research taking place in France. Their concept revolves around the use of granulated cork in a sand root zone for a natural grass sports field. The cork mixed in sand absorbs energy displaced into the sand from each step a player running takes. The energy is being absorbed, lowering the injury potential. The cork in the field gives, not the player’s ligaments or tendons. What a great idea yeah?!? Wow.
The agronomic benefit is similar. With the energy absorption, the compaction potential in the sand root zone is lowered/ eliminated. The result is an air-filled root zone in which strong, healthy grass roots can always exist. Strong, healthy roots allow the grass can always continue to grow and recover. And a grass sward that is always growing and recovering can take an increased amount of traffic without an increased amount of maintenance.
The research behind the cork concept is being done at the George Charpak Institute for NeuroMusculoskeletal Biomechanics. The institute has 3 teams for research:
1) Musculoskeletal Modelling and Clinical Innovation: Oriented towards patient-specific biomechanical modelling of the musculoskeletal system, this research aims to improve the understanding of pathologies resulting from degenerative processes, traumatism or handicap, as well as develop computer aided diagnosis and therapeutic tools, or design implants and technical aids
2) Biomechanics and Nervous System: Motion Analysis and Restoration: This research is based in clinical site (CHU Henri Mondor Creteil). The aim is to better understand relationships existing between motion muscular actuators and their neurocontrol command. Analyzing and modelling motion disorders that happen subsequently to a neurological handicap, leads to design and objective evaluation of rehabilitation protocols.
3) Biomechanics: Sport, Health and Safety: This research, carried out in clinical site (CHU Avicenne-University Paris 13), copes with three issues: inter-relationships between sportive practice and musculoskeletal remodeling in order to optimize performance while reducing induced pathology; mechanisms of injury after impacts (road crashes, sports) to improve protection devices; tissues and structures characterization at various loading speeds
(*Information from the Institute information sheet provided us)
The Institute has completed 4 years of testing on different concepts for sports field and how they react to energy absorption and the human body. The work is amazing. And the results are eye-opening. There truly is a relationship between the shock from players legs and the field surface. Not only does the data expose the need for absorption in the soil, but also for we as grass field managers to embark on an aggressive surface testing program.
Again…. THE FUTURE!?!?
Will it become common for grass field managers to be communicating with fitness experts and biomechanical experts? I think YES! Outside experts becoming involved in research and innovation for natural grass create entirely new possibilities for the limits of natural grass fields. EXCITING!
Chris and I also had the opportunity to visit Aube Stadium in Troyes, France. Aude is the first stadium to install the “AirFibr” system on their field (summer of 2013). Thank you to Aube Head Grounds Manager Eric Robin for hosting us!
(As you look through the Natural Grass website, yes there are a few more components/ parts to the first Natural Grass product, “AirFibr”. The additional of synthetic microfibers helps with stability of a weakened root zone for winter time play, and silica sand helps with superior drainage in the French market. And yes, some of the information Natural Grass has is commercial, as they believe in their product and want to sell it.
But let us focusing on the concept of the cork and the energy absorption. Let us see the creativity and importance of the Natural Grass relationship with some of France’s best researchers in the biomechanics field of study)
Here is another snap shot of the particular “Air Fibr” product:
Background on Organic Sand Amendments… and How Global Communication is Improving the Industry
During a tour of the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) last fall (October 2013) with Mr. Simon Gumbrill of Campey Turf Care, STRI’s Dr. Christian Spring lead us past an abandoned trial on sports field root zone mixtures involving coconuts husks. Seeing visible squares of live and dead grass, Simon’s inquisitive mind asked the question of what was happening. The plots containing coconut had survived the uncommon summer heat of 2013 better than the plots without, even with the trial abandoned.
That experience left me curious about the possibilities of organic soil amendments for sand to increase durability and decrease compaction potential without introducing something like peat. Peat is great for golf. Why do we always have to follow golf? For sports peat is expensive and can lead to compaction potential.
With those thoughts on my mind, later that week I was meeting with Premier Pitches Mr. Carl Pass and Mr. Russell Latham and discussing the topic of sand reinforcement and sustainability for high traffic fields. Carl and Russell had recently visited Paris, France to see a new reinforcement product with cork called “Air Fibr”. There and then the connection to France and the USA via England was made. Now our United States marketplace has another idea for innovation and natural grass durability for the future. Communication and sharing is changing our world… Thank you to everyone involved in sharing, communicating, and idea exchange. Together we are re-defining our FUTURE!