What’s the connection between sports and soil?

Most of us don’t think much more about soil in connection to sports, other than that we need to wash “dirt” from our clothes. But soil is critically important to a variety of sports – it provides for safe, exciting fun! It’s not just individual sports but thousands of folks enjoy sports more because someone took the time to get the soil right!

Soil is also important for many sports where the quality of the turf matters. To grow good grass turf and maximize its durability, it is important to get the soil in which the grass grows right! Soils support plant life by providing the physical medium for them to grow in, and holding water that the plants need to grow.

The texture of the soil is important to consider for sports. The particles of the soil have different sizes from very small to relatively large. The smallest particles are clay particles, while sand particles are the largest. In Figure 1, the little dot next to the word clay represents the size of a clay particle, in proportion to the other size classes. Note that the clay is a dot on this graph and the largest sand grain is about 1000 times larger than the clay particle.

Figure 1: A clay particle—the dot next to the word “clay” above”—is 1,000 times smaller than a coarse grain of sand!
Figure 1: A clay particle—the dot next to the word “clay” above”—is 1,000 times smaller than a coarse grain of sand!

If a single marble is the size of a clay particle, then the silt particle would be the size of a basketball. In relation to these, the largest soil particle—sand—would be about half the distance you’d have to run to get to first base in baseball! So soil texture describes the relative composition of sand, silt and clay. By knowing something about the texture of a soil, we know more about its properties and how to manage it.

There are many reasons why the soil texture of your sports field matters. An athlete needs to be able to run quickly (think of horse racing, or football) and maneuver (field hockey, soccer) – to be able to participate at his/her best. So the running surface matters. It’s also important for maximize the safety of the athlete.

Durability of the sports field matters, too. What if you were playing a game of golf, and the texture was wrong for a sand trap? The sand could blow away! Or, if the sand trap had too many clay particles…the ball could get stuck in mud!


For safety, durability, and even financial reasons, using the right soil for your sports field, and maintaining it for optimum conditions, is important for everyone’s fun!

-Answered by Mary Beth Adams, US Forest Service

To learn more, watch SSSA’s Soils Support Recreation video.

To receive notices about future blogs, be sure to subscribe to Soils Matter by clicking on the Follow button on the upper right! Explore more on our webpage About Soils. There you will find more information about Soil Basics, Community Gardens, Green Infrastructure, Green Roofs, Soil Contaminants, materials for Teachers and more.

More educational materials can be found on various SSSA websites:

http://soils4teachers.org/  (K-12 Lesson Plans and Activities)

http://soils4kids.org  (Just for kids!)

http://soils.org/iys (International Year of Soils, with a coloring book and monthly ideas for teachers and scientists!)

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