Pulling The Flag

3G Versus Grass Surfaces

Actual image of astroturf. (Image courtesy of eBay)

Over the past few decades, NFL teams have largely moved away from temperamental grass surfaces to more reliable artificial ones. Thankfully, gone are the days of ‘astroturf’ which tore your skin like sandpaper and in their place have risen 3G turf fields. Tim Newcomb of Sports Illustrated has this to say:

Grass vs artificial turf. Cold weather vs warm weather grass games. There’s plenty to debate within the NFL’s various playing surfaces, and there are also plenty of complaints to go around.

You’ll often hear players voicing opinions on which they prefer, but let’s look at that in further detail and then you guys can weigh in (warning; prepare for science!)

(Image courtesy of WeKnowMemes)


The field where Leeds Samurai play does occasionally get a little bit damp. (Image courtesy of StarWars.com)

The need for 3G surfaces came about as alternatives for playing sports on to grass because of inclement weather. In short, during the winter (and summer if you live in the UK), it can quickly become a quagmire and this takes away from the speed of the game. In the summer the grass can die out, and the ground bakes hard (or so I hear – It never gets that hot up here!). Both of these can lead to an increased number of injuries and the ground itself playing a role in the outcome of the games. You only have to look at the Oakland Raiders’ stadium to understand why it’s important to have a legit surface to play on (yeah, yeah, baseball diamonds look cool, I get it).

So that’s the “why”, but people still prefer one or the other and opinions are fairly split. Many medical papers have been published looking at the incidence of injuries on each surface and here’s the conclusion:

3G turf in cross section (Image courtesy of Duke University)

3G sees fewer impact-related injuries (concussion, breaks, bruises), but more torque-related injuries (ligament tears, muscle tears). But there are significantly more injuries on grass than 3G in total. That’s down to the pretty clever way that 3G turf is put together (see image left). But 3G surfaces are much warmer and that itself could play a role in player performance. And you might even have to change your shoes! It’s all pretty complicated, right?

Here’s how I see it –

You’ll find rubber crumbs in your shoes for weeks (Image courtesy of Meme Generator)

3G –

Pros: Springier to run on; faster acceleration; better turning; softer impact; no slipping; moulded cleats work well.
Cons: Knees hurt afterwards (torque); expensive to hire; worse friction burns; hotter to play on; those crumbs get everywhere!


Grass –

Pros: Cheap to hire; less abrasive; no crumbs; can wear a variety of cleats.
Cons: Affected by weather more; can’t turn as well; knees hurt afterwards (shock absorption); slippery when wet.

My conclusion: 3G is the far superior playing surface for flag football.

Let me know your thoughts!

If you’re interested in learning more, check out the following links:

Biomechanical Analysis of Surface-Athlete Impacts on Third-Generation Artificial Turf (2012)

The incidence and nature of injuries sustained on grass and 3rd generation artificial turf: A pilot study in elite Saudi National Team footballers (2014)

Soccer Politics: Turf vs Grass (2015)

NFL stadium turf rankings (Sports Illustrated, 2015)

Comparison of surface temperatures of different synthetic turf systems and natural grass: Have advances in synthetic turf technology made a difference (2014)

Rotational Traction Behaviour of Artificial Turf (2014)

Abrasion injuries on artificial turf: A real risk or not? (2014)

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