I remember the first time I ever touched a turf field. My first reaction was how incredibly soft it was. My next reaction was where was this technology 20 years ago when I missed two field goals against the University of Pennsylvania because I could not get ‘under the ball enough’ on the old artificial field? (Brown lost the game 17-14 and I lost my starting position … but really, I’m over it.)
In all seriousness though, despite some of its disadvantages (turf fields can get extremely hot and I hate seeing rubber pellets in someone’s open scab … that can’t be healthy), I think the modern turf fields are fantastic.
However, watching my daughter’s team play an away game on grass (her home field is turf) got me thinking. Are turf fields perhaps doing the sport of soccer a disservice? I know many people, especially soccer purists, would agree with me wholeheartedly (most likely though not for the same reason).
If you have visited my blog or have seen or used my soccer training device called Loopball, you know I am obsessed with ball control and the first-touch, specifically with the inside-of-the-foot. I believe that poor ball control and poor first-touches is the United States’ #1 problem in youth soccer today. Among other things, it results in a much more physical game as is evident in most high school and college games.
Where the turf fields may be doing soccer a disservice is that it may take the challenge out of learning how to receive the ball with the inside-of-the-foot. On turf fields, balls kicked on the ground always roll true. There will never be any unexpected bounces or blips. When the ball is kicked in the air and bounces, unless there is some weird spin on the ball, a player will always know how the ball will rebound off the turf. Essentially, turf fields make it easier to receive and control the ball. My concern is that since it is easier to learn to receive the ball, players and coaches will not spend the necessary time needed to become comfortable with this skill.
This is not a problem on natural grass fields (unless players should be lucky enough to have access to a professional team’s field). On grass fields, players are forced to learn and prepare for the unexpected bounces. As a result, they must spend more time on developing this skill and in all likelihood, will have a better first-touch.
What players and coaches don’t realize is that the skill of receiving a ball can never be mastered. Professional players work on ball control and the first-touch all the time. With the ever-increasing popularity of turf fields, I just hope that players and coaches realize that while it may be easier to control the ball on turf, this skill still needs to be worked on continuously, preferably on grass and preferably on a field that is not in pristine shape.
(Did I mention that the 8-hour bus ride back to school seemed like 8 days and that that loss probably cost us a shot at the Ivy League title … but really, I’ve gotten over it.)