Home Football How to Improve Surface Drainage on a Sports Pitch

How to Improve Surface Drainage on a Sports Pitch

by TurfCareBlog

How to Improve Surface Drainage on a Sports Pitch, looks at what we can do to improve rain infiltration, being aware there is no magic wand. Only time and resources can improve your surfaces and we have to have a realistic expectation of what we can achieve, but improvements can be made, there is support out there so do read on.

What is the Problem?

Rain/Irrigation water drains through the soil by access to available pore space within the soil profile. If there is no pore space (spaces filled with air) the soil cannot accept water and results in surface ponding and only evaporation (only if it’s sunny or and windy) and over time transportation (only if the plant is growing and is a slow process) will dry out the soil profile.

The ideal soil has a mixture of air, water, gas and mineral particles and organic material, such as dead/dying grass leaves and old dead grass plants. Minerals are made up of sand, silt and clay.

Nine Things that Prevent Water infiltration

  • Compaction
  • Loss of grass cover
  • Thatch, holding water
  • Heavy soils
  • High water table
  • Shallow soil profile
  • Drainage systems, not working effectively
  • Impermeable layers
  • Overuse leading to lose of soil structure

Why do top flight football pitches drain so well?

It’s as simple as the fact their pitches are sand dominated profiles, these sand profiles if managed well receive water and allow it to go through the soil at a massively increased rate compared to a heavy native clay soil, so in this regards a grassroots ground person on a heavy soil cannot compete and these needs communicating upwards.

The sand particles we are speaking of are not like a builder’s sand, which on becoming wet pack up and are unsuitable, we are talking sand chosen for their size, shape and uniformity and known as a sports sand.

Top flight clubs have the ability to also keep the soil profile open, by means of aeration and the use of light machinery which keep compaction to a minimum and in turn it creates a thickly anchored (rooted) in plant that is more durable than at the grass roots. There also the small matter the pitches where designed/constructed to drain from the off.

deep spiking

Managing Expectations along the way

If your pitch is on a native heavy soil and it drains poorly, you are at the start of a journey which hopefully you’ll be able to take steps forward. Managing expectations like players and coaches and also your own thoughts have to be considered. You can make massive strides forward, but it will take time, resources and the support of your clubs.

Starting Point!

Download the football foundations pitch power app, this app will take you through the steps to assessing your soil type (heavy or free draining) root depth, thatch layers and compaction and more. Once you have submitted this information, you will be informed of where to start on your journey of improvements and hopefully you shall also get some funding along the way to make it happen.

Anything you need further advice on, speak to your local FA, they can hopefully signpost you to more advice via their advisors.

Link to pitch power – https://footballfoundation.org.uk/power-up-your-grass-pitch

We receive support via the football foundation. The improvements wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Tom Banks 

What are the things we can do to improve surface drainage?

Click on the green text, if you wish to read further on any subject.

·         Aeration, regular in house with the use of solid tine, slit tines to 4-6 inches in depth and via contractor by means of deep aeration, also known as vert draining. There is also a linear type aeration to consider, but be guided by advice for your site and circumstances.

·         Brush/Rake/spike by means of a tractor mounted multi tool attachment, in the right conditions when the grass is growing tractor wheels make a very impression on the soil or grass.

·         Topdressing the whole or part or just high wear areas if budgets and funding are limited, using the correct topdressing material as discussed on the green text above.

·         Thatch reduction, that when dead plant material etc builds it creates a layer of organic material, this material acts as a sponge and traps in moisture at the surface, making for a wetter pitch.

·         By using topdressing to maintain surface levels, if soils are allowed to continue to degrade after play or levels not restored during renovation, these low areas will continue to get lower and hold more water and will result in a loss of games. A little and often topping up of low wear areas is recommended all the time the grass is growing as is vital during end of season renovations.

·         If you can do nothing else, get the fork out as in this video, this also could be a good time to work some of that topdressing down into those fork holes. This will decompact the area and introduce a free draining material down into the holes and help maintain surface levels.

·         Know when to keep off, whatever soil type putting heavy machinery on a sports pitch when the soil is wet and soft will push soil particles into pore space and in turn will compact the soil profile.

·         Don’t be tempted to roll the sports pitch, you might level out a few divots, but you’ll also compact the soil profile and as a result could lose manners in the coming weeks. See this blog on managing surface levels.

·         Possibly installation of primary or secondary drainage as a last result to all the above, as there are pros/cons to managing the demands of such systems which would need investigating. Check to see if you already have some primary drain installed, is there an outfall somewhere, is it blocked?

Annual pitch renovations works programme, with the assistance of the football foundation is key, just look at the testimonials below.

top dressing

Testimonies from Groundpersons

I have noticed a huge difference after we had a pitch verti-drained which is helping oxygen get into the soil and the pitch to drain properly, making room for aeration. 

The use of the quadraplay has also made a huge impact on helping the pitch recover quicker, making it cut up less during games. 

And nothing beats a pitch fork though, it is hard graft when doing it on your own on a full size pitch but can always localise . 

Andy Burrel

The introduction of verti-draining, slitting and an application of sand has totally transformed our pitch, drains so much better and overall playing surface has improved!

We receive ours via the football foundation. The improvements wouldn’t have been possible without it.

Tom Banks 


It’s got to start with accessing your pitch, knowing your soil type and getting funding where you can.

Keep the pitch open, via aeration even if only high wear areas with the use of a garden fork.

Maintain high wear areas surface levels, by regular in season topdressing not burying the grass and end of season renovations.

Educate/train yourself about your pitch and the role and pass that information on and manage expectations.

Know when to keep it, which can be the hardest thing to do and at times all fail at.

Brian on behalf of the TurfCareBlog community

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