FIFA engages with players to further the development of playing surfaces

Playing surfaces are a key element for players to perform to the best of their ability, hence FIFA used the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ to conduct a comprehensive survey of all participating teams.

For the first time at a FIFA tournament, all players were offered the opportunity to provide individual feedback on the playing surface after each match played in the competition.

Aiming to gain a better understanding of the correlation between players’ perceptions and the technical assessment of playing surfaces, FIFA, in a first-of-its-kind project, reached out to all players at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil to ask for their perceptions of the pitches. This was combined with performing an extensive technical assessment of the playing surface prior to each match played at a stadium, with the respective findings being collated and compared.

Pitch Rater application & field testing

Collaborating with Scotland-based test institute Sports Labs, who developed the mobile application called Pitch Rater that allows players to easily and independently provide feedback, FIFA created a survey consisting of 15 questions. The main focus was on the characteristics of the playing surface, covering hardness, grip or the speed of play as well as additional factors that could influence the bias towards a playing surface (such as the result) were also considered. By ensuring that players could complete the survey no sooner than 8 hours after the final whistle players had time to reflect on the game before completing the survey.

Field testing, that was carried out in every stadium prior to the start of each match led to collected data on weather and surface conditions (temperature, humidity, precipitation, surface temperature, surface moisture content, infiltration rate and cutting height of the grass), as well as ball/surface interaction values (ball roll, ball rebound), and player/surface interaction values (rotational resistance, hardness). All tests were directly attributable to one or more questions in the player survey. Upon collecting both data sets, they were compared to look for correlations or trends in player performance and mechanical properties of the field. The results showed that the pitch quality was excellent – despite challenging climatic conditions that included heavy rainfall. In addition, there was a strong correlation – with only marginal discrepancies – between the technical assessment and how players perceived the playability of the fields with regard to their stability and consistency.

The study was able to demonstrate how effective simple digital tools can be in engaging large numbers of players when it comes to getting first-hand feedback and opens up possibilities for further applications in the future.