2018: The Year Ahead

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2017 has flown by in what was an incredible year for the turf industry globally. Sports Labs responded to this increased activity by opening a new laboratory and becoming an innovation partner of KNVB in Zeist, Netherlands. We also began operations in Scandinavia and South America, underscoring our commitment to providing responsive, high-quality services exactly where markets demand it.


We attribute our success to providing the services that our clients want, so we must say thank you to all our customers all over the globe for their support – we appreciate you. In testing hundreds of pitches in over 30 countries and certifying hundreds of products in our laboratory in Scotland, we provided services to all major manufacturers and many of the leading contractors.

2017 was a year of consolidation for Sports Labs as we tackled the many issues rooted in the implementation of three new global standards all activated at the same time. We also worked to complete many of our innovation projects which we are profoundly committed to because innovation is at the core of our company strategy.

2018 is the year we begin to use our player perception feedback collected from the app that enables players to share their experiences of playing on a variety of surfaces. Their direct input, backed by a detailed review of the performance of natural turf against that of artificial turf, will influence products provided to the market.

The fruits of our background work will come through powerfully in 2018 with more responsive services and the implementation of new technologies that will increase the accuracy of some of the standard tests we perform through FIFA, World Rugby, and FIH. We will inform you of these developments throughout the year in what will be an exciting time for Sports Labs.

2018 will be an equally exciting year full of challenges for all our colleagues in the industry:

Non-filled turf systems will gain ground
I predict we will see a big push for approval of non-filled turf systems. Are we there yet with this development? We will see how the manufacturers respond to the technical difficulties of meeting global standards without the need for infill.

Rubber crumb
Unfortunately, dogged by the miscommunication which pervades the rubber crumb infill materials, again we will be fighting the negative PR that the media pushes out. This infill is still the cheapest infill at this time. It might not be the best, but for now, we are not prepared for the market to move to a different technology, so we will again be dealing with the issues raised by rubber crumb.

New technology in turf and infill
Some innovations will come through this year in the form of developments of both new turf systems and new infill materials. Notwithstanding our own push for innovation, some companies are actively working to push the boundaries and challenge our current thinking. As an industry, we need this. Too many companies do not get involved in innovation, and it holds our industry back. Make 2018 a year of change for your business.

Conferences and seminars highlighting research and new technology

Some great meetings and workshops happening this year, and many excellent programmes offered up. Sports Labs will be taking an active part in many big-ticket events:

Sports Labs will also be hosting the following events this year so keep an eye on these websites for updates

To keep up to date with all the developments with turf, tracks, and sports floors are sure to subscribe to our Field Notes publication by sending an email to lisamarie@sportslabs.co.uk

Alternatively visit our website at www.sportslabs.co.uk, Twitter @SPORTSLABSLTD or LinkedIn

Let's make 2018 a year to remember.

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director

5 Things to Know About the Light-Weight Deflectometer (LWD)


1. What it is


A Light-Weight Deflectometer (LWD) is a fantastic tool for testing the prepared formation of your pitch or a stone foundation which supports the turf system of your pitch. It works equally well for the assessment of the base of an athletic track or court.

Where an engineer utilises soils testing protocols such as CBRs, Plate Bearing Tests or Cone Penetration test methods to test soil or the sub-base of a sports facility foundation, the LWD tool replaces expensive and time consuming tests with a quick assessment tool for in-situ use. An LWD is a portable device for measuring the Surface Modulus of in-situ material. The measurement made is a ‘composite value' with contributions from all underlying layers - meaning it takes into account all the layers underlying the device plate which is in contact with the ground. The Deflection measured through the velocity transducer and applied stress through the load cell allows a Surface Modulus to be calculated.

The falling mass, which is normally dropped from variable heights, gives a resultant 5 - 120 kPa stress when set up in conventional format and generates a load pulse duration of 15 - 25ms. This is what stresses the materials and allows stiffness to be measured. The device under use can be seen in photographs provided.

2. How it works
The LWD uses a completely different approach to measuring the bearing capacity, compaction, and/or deformation of a prepared surface. Using an anvil (10Kg) weight dropped from a height onto a set of buffers and load cell, the energy pulse emitted is transferred through a base plate and onto the surface under testing. This pulse of energy stresses materials by effectively squashing them and the response to this stress is measured by a geophone. The stress dependency curves are interpreted to provide an indication of compaction, deformation and bearing capacity.

3. What it tells us
The construction of a properly performing pitch foundation requires the constituent materials to have a sufficient stiffness and resistance to deformation, so it is essential that base materials are adequately compacted at their optimum moisture content to perform appropriately under load. The in-situ measurement of stiffness and state of compaction are measured using an LWD.

An LWD device can be used in several modes, but the most common is the mode which generates a stiffness value. A target value is normally specified for the materials under test, then in-situ materials are measured against the target. This is a great method for controlling the quality of base installations. An LWD device can also be used to assess deformation from the curves which are generated by the software. Contractors often use an LWD for compaction control of materials. The versatility and speed of an LWD is one of its strong points.

4. It can improve base constructions for artificial sports surfaces

Sports Labs adopted a protocol which is based on Key Stage Inspections (KSI), which is one approach for improving base construction for an artificial sports surface. You can find out more about the process in this article

Key Stage Inspections: The Stealthy Way to Ensure Quality

5. More information is available

If you're interested in the subject, there are further reference documents available. Here are two:

(a) Research Paper; Fleming, Frost, and Lambert
A review of the lightweight deflectometer (LWD) for routine in-situ assessment  of pavement material stiffness.

(b) BRITISH STANDARD BS 1924 update

Hydraulically bound and stabilised materials for civil engineering purposes draft for consultation.





Artificial Turf: How Do We Assess Quality?



Artificial turf used in sports facilities will, in general, come with a certification from a national or global governing body. You should not consider the purchase of an artificial turf system without first assessing the results of its tests and evaluations under laboratory conditions prior to leaving a factory. In this brief guide, we provide key things to be aware of when considering the purchase of a new artificial turf field.

Did you know your artificial turf is thoroughly evaluated under laboratory conditions before leaving the factory?
Turf manufacturers submit their materials to Sports Labs for stringent evaluation before their products are supplied to clients. Samples will be evaluated for performance, safety, and durability against strict pre-set criteria. (See the list given below.) These tests are in addition to quality checks a manufacturer will carry out on its production runs. The general idea is to characterise every aspect of the turf system before it is offered up for sale. This includes things such as, for example, the amount of yarn in a product, or its backing weight and pile height. All of these qualities can be checked on the products supplied to any site, so a buyer can be assured it is basically the same.

Why are turf products subjected to stringent tests before they are supplied to clients?
All the tests at Sports Labs are designed to ensure the constituent materials satisfy the required specification(s) for the job and that they will perform to the required level for the expected duration.


There are, of course, many other reasons. Regulations for certain sports will require a certificate for the field. If there is no product test, there will be no field certificate for the main sports played. Rules of the game dictate that a field-of-play must be to a certain standard. Liability is also a key factor to consider -- a certified field should be a safe one.

What tests are called up and what do the results mean?
Product evaluation is generally split into two categories – performance testing and identification testing. Under performance, we would also include safety. Performance testing is used to determine whether the full-system construction meets required specifications for ball-surface interaction, player-surface interaction, and durability. Identification testing is performed on individual components of a system to determine the suitability and verify they match manufacturers declared data.

Check out this video to get a better idea of product testing.

How does testing help ensure you're buying a quality product?
Testing ensures a product's quality matches and satisfies the stringent tests outlined above. This gives peace of mind to the purchaser that a product will satisfy the required safety and performance expected, not only now but throughout its lifecycle.

What should I look for from a supplier?
Look for products that provide official reports to show they have been tested in accordance with the governing body specifications (ie. FIFA, World Rugby, FIH, IAAF etc). A competent manufacturer will be able to supply the necessary paperwork and is registered on one or all of the global governing body websites. If you need more information, get in touch at info@sportslabs.co.uk. Or refer to the links below.

Where can I get more information?

5 Things You Need to Know About Shockpads



I call them an insurance policy. Why? Because a shockpad is there to provide a permanent shock-absorbing layer within the artificial turf system. It is an underlayment which sits between the substrate* and artificial grass. Normally it provides a minimum guaranteed shock absorption value when tested using an AAA device.**  It, therefore, influences the performance of the turf over the pad in the long-term.

A few big-ticket items to be aware of:

  • Impact attenuation to protect the athlete and reduce recovery time
  • Inbuilt safety over time as artificial turf system ages
  • Drainage to accelerate dewatering of the field during inclement weather.


I always rank shockpads into the following categories:

  • Designed for sport
  • Designed for something else but used for sport
  • Designed for a mattress or something but not sport

The most valuable products are those designed for sport. Others that have sport as a subsidiary sales line can be a useful addition to the sports technical performance of an artificial turf -- but they need to be assessed properly for their performance within the turf system and the durability of performance over a life cycle.

Needless to say, the price is a filter here and very cheap shock pads are not normally designed for sports.

You should invest in a shockpad because players select them by default. In a blind study of soccer players regularly exposed to a variety of artificial soccer specific surfaces, the players overwhelmingly chose a field which incorporated a shockpad as their preferred surface. Similarly, they rated fields without shockpads as the worse fields.

Normally shockpads last two life cycles of turf and good quality shockpads are guaranteed for two life cycles of turf. Albeit the capital outlay can be significant, the investment should be amortized over 20 years. Great shockpads have long warranties and can be recycled.

We all know proper maintenance can be a hit-or-miss with community fields. A shockpad can guard against fields becoming so compacted they become a danger to athletes, whether they are training or in a competition. Cyclic annual tests have proven fields which incorporate a shockpad retain performance properties for soccer year-on-year longer than fields which have no shockpad. This is backed up by both laboratory and field studies.

If a pitch is designed correctly, it's difficult to get sued. Shockpads often mean a field can be kept within the stringent requirements set by FIFA, World Rugby and/or the FIH -- not only for longer, but at what is considered to be a safer level for athletes. Litigation is a fact of life, but you can reduce risk by getting a shockpad installed on your field.


The most important issue, of course, is to recognise the importance of player welfare. We are becoming increasingly aware of the influence the field of play has on short and long-term player health. We simply cannot endorse a situation where we are damaging athletes. Whenever we can reduce the risk of injury, it is our duty to do so. Find out if your field has a shockpad or insist on incorporating a shockpad into the refurbishment or design of your new field.

To find out more about shockpads, see Shockpads Working Group


*Substrate - Is the base, subbase, and asphalt layer the shock pad will be laid onto. A great example would be seen here -- underneath the shock pad is a leveling layer.


**AAA device - An artificial athlete which is used by test institutes to measure the shock absorption of artificial pitches. For more information see 5 Things You Need to Know About Force Reduction Testing. 

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.

Testing Times: Addressing Regional Standards


As a company, we do a lot of testing. This year we will have examined in excess of 1,200 facilities globally -- all subject to a single or a battery of different tests.

The largest number of facilities in a region we examine is in the United States where we test over 700 fields per year against the GMax requirements. In Europe, we perform either a FIFA, World Rugby or International Hockey Federation test on over 600 fields.

The contrast between these two regions could not be more striking. One of the biggest markets in the world, the US, is testing using one single test protocol on a field. Whilst the second biggest market in the world, Europe, is using seven or eight test protocols on each field.

Another concerning issue is that in the US we are only required to examine a field by testing it in 10 locations, or 30 individual drops. In Europe, the field is examined in 20 locations by utilising 255 tests. The whole scale difference in the level of scrutiny that a field receives between the two Continents should be a point of interest to governing bodies, owners, and athletes using the fields.


So why would we want to subject a field to a battery of tests in Europe if in the US we can simply do one test?

At this time, shock attenuation is the only thing of interest to the specifier in the US and the change to incorporate a broader evaluation approach is slow to occur.

In Europe, the testing takes in performance, such as:

  • ball surface interaction - ball roll (large ball)
  • vertical ball rebound (large ball) safety
  • shock absorption
  • vertical deformation
  • rotational resistance
  • impact attenuation (HIC)
  • construction quality
  • evenness (surface regularity)
  • infiltration

The reason why Europe has a more grown-up approach is simple – to raise the quality of the installed field and to provide tools which can be used to continually test fields to make sure that player welfare is still a major consideration -- especially on an ongoing basis as the field ages. This concept in the US is restricted to, on occasion, cyclic GMax tests as a field ages. There is a big difference between the two.

Why is it important to use a broad-based approach to evaluate a field?

Often we are asked what tests are designed to tell us about the surfaces. The following table was put together for the OneTurf* concept and it is a good indication of why we would want to adopt the European approach in the United States.



Where can I find out more about a proper broad-based approach to evaluating a field?

There are a number of useful links where you can find out more:

World Rugby
Sports Labs

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.



5 Things to Know About Maintaining Your Artificial Pitch

1. They Are Not Maintenance Free
I thought artificial pitches were maintenance free? Yes, that old chestnut. It's convenient to think that artificial pitches are maintenance free, but the only truth in this is that you don't need to cut the grass!

Artificial pitches are large areas exposed to the environment and are excellent filters for all the pollution and other detritus which falls from the sky or is brought onto the surface. In addition to undesirable materials being added to the pitch, the fibres or blades are subjected to a pounding by foot traffic using the playing surface.

All this adds up to a job to maintain the pitch. This involves removing unwanted materials and de-compacting the infill and fibres which make up the playing surface. Infill levels are critical here, as this medium helps to protect vulnerable fibres from flattening.

2. The Time Required to Maintain A Pitch Can Vary
How often do I need to maintain my pitch? This depends on the type of pitch and the amount of use it gets. For example, a small area of a five-a-side pitch can receive up to 20 times the footfall or a full-size pitch. Not only does this mean it will need more maintenance, but it will wear out more quickly. It, therefore, requires grooming frequently -- as a minimum, weekly. A full-size pitch used 35 hours per week should be groomed every two weeks. It's not rocket science, however, there is a lot more to it than just brushing.

3. Why Proper Maintenance is Critical

  • It cleans the debris, weeds and any other detritus from the pitch
  • It decompacts any infill to enhance safety and performance
  • It distributes infill evenly to protect fibres and enhance play experience
  • It grooms the fibres to make them erect
  • It repairs small issues with the surface such as seams failures, etc.

Click here to watch a video about turf maintenance.

4. It's Important to Use The Right Brushes, Kits and Tools

  • Brushes - There are many types of brushes and you need to select the right brush for the job
  • Drag Mats – These are useful for simply picking up debris and leveling infill
  • Tines – These are only used by expert maintenance companies but they are essential for decompacting infill
  • Leaf Blowers – Also essential for removing leaves and seeds
  • Weed Killers – A must to reduce weed encroachment onto the surface

5. It's Worth It
Why bother? Here are just a few incentives to motivate you:

  • It prolongs the life of the facility, thereby protecting your investment
  • It enhances safety and performance of the surface, which is important for user experience and to avoid costly litigation
  • It protects your warranty claims

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.


Artificial Pitches: Is it Time to Review Performance Requirements?


Artificial pitch requirements have been set in stone for a long time now. The first working limits on the performance of artificial turf for soccer appeared in the publication of the Winterbottom report in 1984.

In subsequent years, UEFA (1996) and then FIFA (2001) published limits based on good quality natural turf, following in-stadium performance studies. The date of the last major review to compare the performances of natural turf against artificial turf is unknown. Maybe it's time to have another look and bring current standards up to date. Doing so may reduce the negative feedback that the playing community has for artificial turf in leagues.
Sports Labs presents further information which may indicate why a review is required. Following extensive research testing of sports fields, we ascertained some interesting facts to share on the performance of natural pitches in stadiums around Europe.

Testing and the evaluation of results -- which are backed up by work done by a major Football Association and other independent Laboratories and Consultants based in Europe, as well as a manufacturer in the USA -- suggest that the best natural pitches are firmer but more shock absorptive than the best artificial pitches. Our research provided results which correlate well with these studies.
Using data collected over a two-year period on a large sample group, Sports Labs is able to summarise the performance of natural pitches using FIFA-type testing to characterise properties like shock absorption, deformation, rotational resistance, and HIC, etc.

The standout results which are of interest relate to shock absorption where natural turf is substantially firmer than artificial turf, no matter what type of turf was analysed. The shock absorption of a hybrid turf system is a whopping 33% less than a good artificial turf. The other standout difference relates to critical fall height; here Hybrid turf is 25% higher than a good quality artificial turf.


Natural sand-based turf was found to be, on average, less firm than Hybrid turf but it was considerably more shock absorptive than the best artificial turf systems with the critical fall height being nearly double.


So, what does this all mean for artificial turf going forward? There are several issues which need to be addressed. Player perception is a major issue for the industry, specifically the perception within the playing community that artificial turf is somehow inferior to natural turf and it's to blame for a higher incidence of injury. However, recent studies suggest that certain injuries such as knee ligament injuries are on the increase, but these stats are coming from leagues which do not allow artificial turf to be used.

The playing community seems to be pointing the finger at the increased use of hybrid turf in this league. The results which Sports Labs have found seem to indicate that the field of play in the top tier of the game is firm -- maybe too firm -- for player well-being? (SEE ARTICLE: Are serious knee injuries in the Premier League really at 'epidemic' levels?)

So, what do the results look like?


To be clear, what these results show is that natural turf provides a unique playing surface for players -- a firm but shock-absorptive one. These qualities can be achieved in artificial turf through careful design and the selection of an artificial turf system (shock pad and turf combination) which mimic these properties. There exist a few systems which come close to this in the market, but a lack of understanding of how to properly design a system to perform more like natural turf -- and a market which is very cost-sensitive -- has elongated the time it is taking to focus attention on this.
Of fundamental importance is the need for future artificial turf systems to be designed to incorporate a shock pad into the make-up. Simply making artificial turf firmer is not the answer the industry needs to make artificial turf more like natural turf.
Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.

Understanding Artificial Turfs and Concussions

Playing surfaces of all compositions and descriptions have the potential to cause minor to severe head injuries whenever athletes come into contact with them. Artificial surfaces, however, are subject to the most intense evaluations because these surfaces are designed and installed with manufactured products and processed constituents. These surfaces, therefore, currently fall under more legislative scrutiny than any natural surface.

Concussions are an important concern for athletes in a variety of sports. A recent and ongoing debate in the United States has put a spotlight on the need to come up with a strategy to address the safety of athletes in football and other sports. However, the response to this issue is very slow and the lack of focus on surfaces is unfathomable.

Meanwhile, other sports have already taken this issue seriously, including Rugby and the Gaelic Games. Some notable absentees from this list include the beautiful game (football/soccer) and field hockey.

The mechanisms for concussions are now very well understood, so there is no need for a detailed medical account here. Check out the Concussion Foundation and Headway for further information.

Suffice to say that if research shows 1 in 5 concussions are attributable to the surface, then something must be done about it. If it is within our power to mitigate risk, why would we ignore these simple steps?

What is the issue?
The type of concussions receiving the most attention right now are not the dramatic impacts which result in a loss of consciousness, but rather the small knocks and bumps to an athlete's head which cause only minor symptoms, not severe losses of function.

Small knocks and bumps to the skull can cause micro-traumas to build up in the brain. It is thought that repeated incidents of seemingly minor injuries can expose a player to long-term damage.

Our interest, therefore, is long-term and 100% focused on reducing the risk of concussions across the board by making surfaces more shock absorptive and better able to reduce the harsh consequences of head impacts.

There are two approaches which could offer an immediate beneficial effect.

1. Introduce a shock pad into the design of all new fields
2. Insist that new fields are constructed to meet a pre-determined value for Head Injury Criterion (see HIC).

Sports such as Rugby look to regulate the shock absorption on fields via fall heights. In the case of Rugby, the field would be rated for a fall height of 1.3m at a HIC value of 1000. This inbuilt protection is not a be-all and end-all to reducing concussions, but measures like these can reduce risks and mitigate the incidences of micro-traumas.

How do we reduce the risk?
We advocate that every field is designed and assessed for HIC whether it was originally built to provide shock absorption protection or not. Being informed allows choices to be made about which sports are played on a what surfaces.

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.

Key Stage Inspections: The Stealthy Way to Ensure Quality



An early claim to fame for Sports Labs was the implementation of Key Stage Inspections (KSI) to the construction of the whole of the base works of an artificial pitch or track. It was in the late 80's, in fact, that our principals, civil engineering, and testing background evolved in such a way that designing a pitch from the ground up and making sure it was built correctly became fundamental to the core management of all our projects.

Key Stage Inspections were developed to deliver the best possible end product. We created a process of ensuring that the formation, drainage, sub-base and engineered asphalt layers were properly specified and that the quality of what was being built on-site was to the highest standard.

What is a Key Stage Inspection?

During a Key Stage Inspection, a visit is made to site to inspect and test an aspect of the work against pre-determined specifications. The materials quality, workmanship and key performance characteristics are all assessed. The visit usually occurs at predetermined milestone events during the construction phase.

Which Key Stage Inspections are typically performed during the construction of an artificial pitch or track?

Checks are typically made at the following stages. These may be inspection works, testing or both.

  • Formation (soils)
  • Drainage
  • Stone Foundation (sub-base)
  • Asphalt Layer
  • Shock Pad
  • Artificial Turf or Polymeric Materials

Why are Key Stage Inspections so important?

  • To Identify Problems Early - It is important to identify problems as early as possible. When the works are inspected and tested regularly, it reduces the opportunities for things to be incorporated into the works which are substandard or indeed non-compliant. Tests benchmark the quality and compliance of the works.
  • To Ensure Specs Are Met - To ensure all specifications are being met, pre-set limits or criteria are used to measure things like bearing capacity, planarity and infiltration rates. The shock pad and turf seams can be sampled to ensure that they are high quality and meet minimum requirements. Infill can be sampled to assess for harmful substances, shape, and gradation.
  • To Allow Contractors Time - Key Stage Inspections benefit the contractors by providing them as much time as possible to resolve any problems. The frequent communication between engineers and contractors means that healthy engagements can take place. This creates an environment which benefits both working relations and, ultimately, the outcome of the job.
  • To Save Money - The bottom line is that Key Stage Inspections can help all parties avoid very costly rectification works to base construction and the remedial works to the artificial turf or polymeric systems. In our opinion, KSIs are the only way to guarantee that the finished pitch or athletics track will fully meet the intended specification.

Eric O'Donnell, Managing Director
Sports Labs Ltd.



What is One Turf?


Recently the global governing bodies we interact with the most issued a guidance document aimed at providing owners, municipalities, manufacturers, etc., with a one-stop shop standard to cater for multi-use artificial fields.

The reasoning behind this move merits explanation. If you think about it, why would a global governing body that extensively researches requirements to suit its own sport introduce One Turf, a one-size-fits-all standard?

Let's face it. Not all artificial sports fields are specific to one sport. The days of supporting just a soccer, rugby or hockey pitch are numbered. Certainly, today's funding criteria must be aimed at a broader spectrum of society.

To understand One Turf, it is probably easier to say what it is not. It is not a specification to replace a sports-specific standard like FIFA, World Rugby or FIH requirements, as set out in these global governing bodies standards.

If a product or field is assessed against One Turf, then it won't necessarily meet the criteria set by its specific global governing body that subscribes to One Turf.

So we asked the author what One Turf is all about...

Marc Douglas, the Research, Artificial Turf & Equipment Manager for World Rugby, has provided a summary of what the One Turf standard is all about.

“The One Turf Concept was developed as a tool to assist facility owners to identify the performance requirements that their fields should be meeting. It is not intended to be used as a specific performance standard. Instead it is an identification of best practice as identified by the three International Federations (IFs) from many years of experience in regulating artificial turf surfaces.

The Concept is split into three sections, the first to indicate what performance of existing fields should be achieving to minimise potential player welfare issues. The second (in combination with the first) is advice on what facility owners should be looking for a new field to achieve to ensure that the quality of performance is maintained over the life of the field and that that lifespan is appropriate for the level of investment being made. The third section details the additional requirements that individual sports require to be met for certification of fields.

The use of the One Turf Concept to identify these performance requirements is encouraged. However, the identification of One Turf is not required if certification to one or more of the three IFs’ programmes is required. This is because the One Turf concept is a subset of these programme requirements, which are built around maximising player welfare."

So, we hope all you specifiers, consultants and architects out there are clear on how to use the One Turf guidance document.

Eric O'Donnell, Managing Director