Human perceptions of artificial surfaces for field hockey

Measuring the performance of a sports surface is typically derived from a series of field and laboratory tests that assess the playing properties under simulated game conditions. However, from a player’s perspective their own comfort and confidence in the surface and its playing characteristics are equally if not more important. To date no comparative study to measure playing preference tests has been made. The aim of this research was to develop a suitable method for eliciting player perceptions of field hockey pitches and determine the key themes that players consider when assessing field hockey pitches. To elicit meaningful unbiased human perceptions of a playing surface, an individual subjective analysis was carried out, using interviews and inductive analysis of the recorded player statements. A qualitative analysis of elite hockey players (n = 22) was performed to obtain their perceptions immediately after a competitive match. The significant surface characteristics that emerged as part of an inductive analysis of their responses were grouped together and formed five general themes or dimensions: player performance, playing environment, pitch properties, ball interaction and player interaction. Each dimension was formed from a hierarchy of sub-themes. During the analysis, relationships between the dimensions were identified and a structured relationship model was produced to highlight each relationship. Players’ responses suggested that they perceived differences between pitches and that the majority of players considered a ‘hard’ pitch with a ‘low’ ball bounce facilitating a ‘fast’ game speed was desirable. However, further research is required to understand the relative importance of each theme and to develop appropriate measurement strategies to quantify the relevant engineering properties of pitch materials.