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Artificial surfaces – hit or miss?

In a world where we are moving towards artificial intelligence, the same can be said for the playing surface used to play our beloved games on. However, despite their increasing popularity, are artificial surfaces really the way to go?

First of all, let us look at the pros. Artificial surfaces require much less maintenance then a natural playing surface because of their durability and their ability to resist the effects of the weather, which in Ireland is a major nemesis when it comes to outdoor activities. They also reduce the likelihood of injuries to players who may pull muscles or fall awkwardly due to slippery conditions on a natural but uneven playing surface. Astroturf pitches in particular are becoming more and more prevalent in Ireland today across a number of sports including rugby. The most recent example is the installation of a 4G playing surface at Irish Independent Park, the second home of Munster rugby in Cork.

However, one key aspect against this recent trend is the effect it can have on a player’s skill level. For example, the vast majority of tennis clubs in Ireland use tiger turf or savannah style tennis courts to counter the adverse weather but this has a detrimental effect when it comes to producing top quality tennis players. The speed of the court is far too great for young/beginner players as it reduces their time on the ball, making it difficult to develop a proper technique. It is also completely unrealistic as there are no ATP/ WTA level tournaments that use this surface which can alienate Irish players when playing on the European clay courts or American hard courts.  It is widely agreed among Irish tennis coaches and ex pro’s such as Conor Niland, Ireland’s current Davis Cup captain, that the playing surface used in Ireland is the main reason as to why we have yet to produce a player who has gone on to break into the top 100 on either the ATP or WTA tour.

There is no question about it, with the advances in sports technology on and off the pitch, artificial playing surfaces are becoming a staple in countries throughout the world. It’s important to remember that, although artificial surfaces are weather friendly, they are not a proven blueprint capable of producing world class athletes. Ireland is known for its green image, let’s keep it that way when it comes to our playing surfaces.