Artificial turf has long been a subject of ridicule among soccer purists. But like it or not, turf is here to stay, especially in the States.
It goes by lots of names now: synthetic grass, turf, artificial grass, field turf, and on and on… But whatever you call it, by the end of this article, you’ll know how the modern artificial surfaces are made and the best soccer cleats to wear when you play on it.
Artificial Grass: How It’s Made
I read a lot of marketing content on the manufacturer’s websites as I prepared this article. All I can say is: holy crap those guys use a lot of techno-babble.
Just ignore the hype. It doesn’t matter to to you as a player that the surface is uses “cryogenic” rubble particles. (Cryogenic rubber particles? Seriously?)
There are a few small variations between the different brands available today, but nothing that changes the way the surfaces perform for you as a player. Really, there are just 3 things you need to know:
- When you run on artificial turf, you’re literally running on rubber.
- The surfaces are made by “planting” plastic blades of grass in a base of rubber pellets, called “infill,”
- The rubber pellets sit on top of a layer of sand, which in turn sits on a woven fabric backing.
(“Infill,” by the way, gets its name from the installation process. When these fields are being created, they start by rolling out the “grass,” the same way you would roll out new carpet. Then they come back over the grass and add the “infill” down into the grass. First the sand, then the rubber on top of it. On a full sized field, the whole process usually takes several days.)
Why Artificial Turf Has Become So Popular
Installing artificial grass can cost a million dollars per field. But, despite the huge initial cost, the surface can be a big long-term cost savings for schools and universities that can absorb the up-front cost.
Modern artificial grass typically lasts 10 years, and it performs consistently in all weather conditions, a big benefit to football programs since grass fields get so torn up by the end of the season.
The Football Effect
Football players (American football players, that is) seem to love the stuff. In the NFL, for example, 14 of the 32 stadiums currently have artificial grass.
It makes sense really. The rubber infill is more forgiving for football players, who constantly find themselves being thrown to the ground. That has to be less of a toll on the body than a frozen football field in January.
For college programs and high schools, it’s no secret that the decision makers have their football programs as their first priority. That’s where the money is. The soccer team gets a field too, but it’s rare that soccer is a primary decision-making factor.
Add it all up, and you can see why so many schools have replaced their natural surface fields with the artificial grass. If I were an Athletic Director with a good enough budget, I’d buy the artificial grass too.
What It Means for Your Cleats
First of all, if you own a nice pair of firm ground cleats, those will perform just fine on modern artificial grass, and that might be all you really need.
That said, the cleat manufacturers have recently come out with some really interesting that are worth taking a look at.
Nike’s artificial grass cleats are really ahead of the pack. Their AG sole plate features three different sizes of hollowed out studs. The rubber infill will actually go up into those holes, allowing the cleats to “dig in” deeper to the artificial surface than normal cleats do.
And that’s really the point of kids soccer cleats in the first place, to dig into a surface in a way that gives a player more stability and balance during the game.
At present, only Nike has the hollowed out studs, though the other manufacturers have been developing their own AG offerings. The other styles vary, but in general they feature more, slightly shorter cleats than what you’ll get from a firm ground shoe.
Can I Use Artificial Ground Cleats on Natural Surfaces?
Sure, but I don’t recommend it. The artificial ground cleats are made to grip an artificial surface. Firm ground shoes are made to dig in and penetrate a natural surface. Artificial ground cleats just aren’t made to do that.
In short, firm ground shoes work well on an artificial surface, but the reverse isn’t true. Artificial ground shoes don’t perform as well on natural turf.
So, Which Is Right for Me?
If you play exclusively on Artificial Turf, then go with artificial grass (AG) soccer cleats.
But, if you play even occasionally on natural surfaces, start with the nicest firm ground (FG) soccer cleats you can afford. They’ll do just fine on the turf. You can and add the artificial ground shoe to your gear bag later on.