Sports field concern ahead of El Niño summer

Paul Eyers
Paul Eyers

With an El Niño summer now confirmed, concerns have been raised about how Australian school sporting fields will handle the heat.

Meteorologists are warning Aussie schools to expect a hotter, drier summer across most of the country as the Pacific Ocean climate pattern causes the mercury to rise. But students and teachers won’t be the only ones needing a bit of sun protection this summer, with the vulnerability of schools’ natural grass sports fields likely to put a dampener on sports day – just not in the form of much-needed rain.

Schools and educators are bracing to once again face the familiar challenge of managing inadequate, weather-beaten playing surfaces, with likely disruptions to sports and physical education programs as grass fields become burnt and barren.

With Australia’s weather already harsh at the best of times, and climate change set to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, there is a clear need for the education sector to consider a more resilient, weather-proof solution going forward.

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That’s why a growing number of schools are turning to artificial surfaces, offering teachers an optimal solution to maintain uninterrupted physical education opportunities for students year-round.

Master of Education and NSW physical education teacher Tyrone Orr says more artificial surfaces would not only alleviate the stress of playing condition suitability but also give the next generation of Aussie sports stars a competitive edge.

“For a sports-mad nation like Australia, it’s no wonder sports and physical education remain some of our most popular school subjects,” he told The Bursar.

Managing Australia’s frustrating ability to yo-yo between periods of drought and flooding rainfall isn’t the only benefit of installing artificial turf, according to Mr Orr.

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Superior appearance
The outdated notion that ‘fake grass looks fake’ may have been true decades ago but attitudes have changed in line with improved manufacturing technology. It can be quite difficult to tell the difference between the real thing and artificial turf, which maintains a healthy look and unchanging length year-round. Australian made artificial turf, in particular, has been cleverly designed to specifically cater for the harsh and ever-changing Australian climate.

Sports fields are often a source of pride in schools where they attract attention from supportive parents and visiting competitors’ parents. When other schools’ fields look patchy, yellow and scorched, an artificial surface will maintain its lush green glow throughout the year, presenting schools in the best possible light.

Added safety
Artificial surfaces provide a consistent surface that is free from divots, uneven areas or compacted patches that can lead to imbalance and injury. High-quality artificial turf fields can now be combined with a revolutionary shock-pad layer installed underneath surfaces to further aid athletic shock absorption and help prevent players from suffering injuries.

Better drainage
Drainage problems with bare patches of ground can result in muddy patches and puddles across natural turf. Conducting just one sports lesson on soil that’s too wet and muddy can damage the turf for the rest of the season, with the surface becoming more compacted and bare.

This can lead to safety issues, as well as affect sports playability, with balls and equipment not bouncing or responding properly. The inability of artificial turf to compact means there’s no mud or puddles and sports can continue – even in wet conditions.

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Cost effective
Lower maintenance costs mean artificial surfaces can become a money-saver in the long-term, with schools saving time and cash as they no longer need to mow, weed, water or fertilise their field. While some maintenance is required, overall expenditures are reduced significantly, with artificial surfaces designed to last several decades.

“While often manageable, it’s always disappointing for both teachers and students when lessons get affected by the impacts of adverse weather conditions on the playing surfaces,” Mr Orr said. “We need to give our kids the best opportunity to excel, and artificial grass fields can help navigate these weather impacts and help achieve that.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with a singular perspective on the world.