The SportsTurf Interview: Peter Thibeault, CSFM

This month in “The SportsTurf Interview,” we feature Peter Thibeault, CSFM, the turf manager at the Noble & Greenough School, Dedham, MA.


SportsTurf: What are your biggest challenges working for a private school?

Thibeault: One of the biggest challenges working for a private school as I’m sure with most other places is limited help and meeting expectations. We all have a certain niche at our facility but there are times when your role may change. For example, in the winter I work down at the hockey rink. I get to drive a Zamboni, as I have for the past 17 years and we do maintenance in the building. Some of this work can be sports-related like edging the boards and leveling the surface, while other days we can be cleaning the glass or doing snow removal, or painting classrooms. We even painted a logo in the middle of the fitness room’s floor.

Speaking of snow removal this year was a lot less than last and enabled us to get some outside work done that we hadn’t been able to get to. Over the years I have found myself in quite a few different scenarios. It is fun to do the other things and work with others that I rarely have the opportunity to do.

SportsTurf: How are you meeting them?

Thibeault: I consider myself a team player and would like to think that I fit in with our team here. I may not be the best at some of the things that I get involved in but I do know that I give it my best effort. I do think communication has a big part in meeting these challenges. We have to be honest with ourselves and our employers; for example, I have an extreme fear of heights, (I think I fell out of too many trees as a kid), and by explaining this to my boss there hasn’t been too many times I’ve had to face this fear. I suppose maybe that’s why I chose to be a sports field manager.

SportsTurf: How has social media impacted your work?

Thibeault: Social media has helped to make our work more noticeable to the larger community. This gives a good avenue to showcase our facility. In some ways it has made it very challenging in that more people can see your work. We are all under pressure whether it is professionally or personally and I think social media can be one of our biggest allies. For example, if you can pull off an event during poor weather or by making the place look exceptional during the big events. I believe social media is a big help, even in our profession I have made many friends and continue to stay connected thru social media even if we are hundreds of miles apart.

SportsTurf: What are the most import ant changes you’ve seen in sports turf management since you started working in the profession?

Thibeault: Since being in this profession since 1994 I have seen a greater focus on player safety. When I first started there wasn’t much talk of player safety, not sure if it was just our facility or it was the industry. Through the years there has been a lot more research and work done on promoting this. Each year I attend the national STMA conference there is a new study or research being done to greater impact the player’s safety. We have a lot more tools in the shed than when I first came into this business, both at our facility and in the profession. We have always been very concerned for the athletes at our facility and if there is an injury we like to know what can be done to help prevent it, whether it be equipment-related or surface-related. Safety is one of our biggest concerns and when you talk of player safety people tend to listen.

SportsTurf: For years you were a 1-man show; now that you have some help, what are you able to do now that you previously could not?

Thibeault: Hmmm, this is a tough question that has many answers. I would say the biggest and best thing is to be able to start and spend time with my family. The work that I used to spend tirelessly doing alone is now divided by two and sometimes we may even have four or five. The best part about the work is that I can now micro manage a lot better, intend of just giving it the “once over,” I can now re-visit until happy with the results. I manage around a million square feet of turf; even with two of us we have times of almost biting off more than we can chew. We now can do our fertility in house. This is huge in that we can now make applications when they will be most beneficial versus when the contracted company can come out. There are a lot of other things too but it really is a good feeling to have some one to share the workload with I am most grateful for that.

SportsTurf: What’s your favorite on field maintenance task?

Thibeault: I would have to say mowing. There are many thongs that I do enjoy, such as going on a wild goose chase to get the geese off the field, but mowing is one of my favorites. The smell of fresh cut grass seems to be relaxing to me, I know that they do say that is actually good for you in some way I really do enjoy it. It also helps me to see every square inch in a different way.

SportsTurf: What don’t you like about your job?

Thibeault: That’s a tough one to ask after you just had me thinking about cutting grass. I would have to say that being in New England and I do work outside, sometimes Mother Nature can make things very difficult. That really is it, I truly love my job and sometimes the weather can be cruel. It can get to be 100 in the summer with 80% humidity you can smell the material in your shirt cooking, or it can be minus 10 and snowing 3 inches an hour, these can be difficult circumstances to work in.

SportsTurf: How has being an STMA member benefitted you?

[Thibeault: The STMA has benefitted me in many ways. The first is that it has helped me to achieve a higher sense of professionalism. My first conference was in 2003 in San Antonio. I met many great people that year; I was new I had a green dot on my badge. I knew nobody and was a long ways from home, by myself. Members continued to come up and introduce themselves and share information on how they manage their facilities and their lives. This was incredible; what a great group of people. After attending the awards banquet on the last night and getting all dressed up and seeing people on stage winning awards it brought a greater sense of pride to the work I do.

Our facility won high school soccer field of the year in 2006 and that was a great feeling to be recognized by my peers for the work I do. In 2007 I returned back to San Antonio and passed my certification exam and became a CSFM, again this helped to give me a stronger sense of my knowledge in the work that I do. The STMA has given me a large network of answers. By this I mean that if I am unsure of something I can look through the members and reach out to help find the best answer.

SportsTurf: How do you think the profession and industry will change in the next 10 years?

Thibeault: Water is such a valuable resource that I see more improvements being made in the way we use it. Non-potable water is being used more and more and I see plants that are developed to use this type of water and actually require less water to thrive. Technology is changing and even in the past few years irrigation systems have become way more advanced where you can actually control some of them through your wicked smart phone.

SportsTurf: What are your passions and interests outside of work?

Thibeault: I love spending time outdoors. I find fishing to be quite relaxing and like to get out any chance I can.