The renovation of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Monday, March 31, 2014. Photos by Chris Adamczyk.
Tips for beginning sports turf managers
We asked some veteran Sports Turf Management Association members for some tips they would pass along to turf managers who are just beginning their careers. Here’s what they said:
Don’t be afraid to try new things, whether it is new technology or new maintenance practices. Just because something has never been done, doesn’t mean it won’t work.
You must learn how to expand your knowledge and experiences. Reaching out to others in the industry will make you become a better turf manager and help you reach your ultimate career goals. Networking is one of the most influential factors to success.
Weston Appelfeller, CSFM
For the sports turf manager entering the industry, I think it’s important to be able to be mobile. Do not try to work in just one region. It’s tough especially at the professional level to find that one position for your favorite home team. Be willing to relocate and gain as much knowledge as you can in different climates, situations, and facilities to make yourself more marketable.
Key to success in my opinion:
Be impeccable with your word; if something you promised can’t be accomplished do not let it be due to a lack of trying.
If you close a field, always perform a maintenance task. Nobody likes to hear “the field needs to rest.” It can rest after you have aerated, fertilized, made a pesticide application or done a deep watering to flush the system.
Soil and tissue testing are powerful tools.
Having a 12-month maintenance plan/schedule is a necessity.
And the most important—schedule everything in advance, as far in advance as possible, and assume that equipment will break down and weather will not cooperate, so always have a backup plan.
Ron Hostick, CSFM
Pay attention to detail in every aspect of your job. Keeping small things from becoming major issues will help you sleep at night.
Network with the folks who have years of experience.
#1-Use your peers to help, most often they have been in a similar situation and most are willing to help. No matter how much education you have real life experience is worth its weight in gold.
#2-Realize you don’t know everything and be honest with yourself and those you serve and work with.
#3-Take time to smell the flowers. It is not always about the work or the job; balance your work with personal life and family and you will naturally succeed.
Jim Cornelius, CSFM
#1-Work hard, play hard, and be nice to people. You are always being evaluated and a current co-worker or intern may be in a completely different role in the industry in the future.
#2-Everything in life is political and decisions are often made through the view of a “best interest of the business” lens.
#3-Observe how current decisions are being made and consider how you would/would not make the same decisions in the future.
I think the one thing has benefitted me greatly in my career has been networking. It sounds cliché, and you hear people say it all the time, but you really cannot underestimate how important relationships can be in this small industry. Everyone is within reach of any contact seemingly by one person. If you want to go intern for a certain team in your area make phone calls ahead of time and be proactive in that pursuit. Ask your professor if he knows the head groundskeeper or has his phone number; I am willing to bet he does. I am fortunate enough each year to help with our senior turf classes at Oklahoma State University and the only advice I give to turfgrass students is to do an internship every summer and keep in touch with former employers as much as you can. They hold the key to your future, good or bad.
I was fortunate to get the job here at OSU because my former boss, Kris Harris, turned the job down but thought enough of me as an assistant to recommend me for it. The only reason I got a job at Georgia Tech beforehand as an assistant was because Kris thought a lot of Mike Boekholder and Greg Elliott, whom I worked for previously as an intern. We have been fortunate here at Oklahoma State to grow our department substantially in my 8 years. All of my hires for assistants have come at the urging of friends in the industry. It is an easy decision when one of your friends says to you, “Hey I have a guy here who is about to graduate or has just finished his internship and would be an excellent worker for you there.” Keep your friends close to you; work hard when no one is watching, and be the best employee/student every single day.
The best advice that I could give to a sports turf manager just starting out is learn, achieve, have a positive attitude, and work hard.
If you are currently in school, just graduated, or started out in the work force continue to learn and grow. The fundamentals of turf management are taught in the classroom and through books to give you a good foundation. In the work world this foundation is practiced and honed into skills. A lot of turf management is learned on the job or from experience. Every task that you are assigned is a chance to master your skills. Network and talk with other sports managers, ask lots of questions, and learn from their experience to help you hone your skills. Learn, learn, learn.
Evaluate yourself and see what you need to work on. Find out what your strengths and weakness are. Develop these strengths and work on improving your weaknesses. Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Short-term goals give you something to work for in the near future. These goals should align with your long-term goals. Long-term goals are for where you want to be in your career 5 to 10 years from now. Goals help to better yourself and facility. Believe in yourself and you will achieve your goals.
Having a positive attitude makes work easier. A lot of work goes into the maintenance of a facility that is often unnoticed or noticed but nothing is said. Some of this work may seem monotonous, but still needs to be done. Being positive and having fun can be infectious to all around you, making for a better work atmosphere for co-workers and player/fan experiences. Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
Sports turf management is hard work. Work ethic is not something that is learned, but is developed. During the sports season/growing season show up to work early and prepare to stay late. Most sporting events occur on weekends or holidays. Don’t be afraid to get dirty and put in the extra effort. Good things happen to those who work hard.
Scott Stevens, CSFM
#1-Bring the passion for the industry.
#2-Never stop learning or experimenting. Learn from your elders (we will share), take what you learn and try new things. Get involved with STMA; [our members are] the best in the industry to learn from.
#3-Understand the organization you are with, especially budgeting, expectations and goals.
Mike Tarantino, CSFM
Read and never stop learning. Work on improving yourself more than improving others.
Listen, adapt and let people know how much they matter.
Ask before giving feedback. Do not wait to give feedback. Adopt a process that goes above and beyond the often-required annual review.
Share the load, delegate. Trust your people with something you typically do yourself.
Mark Frever, CSFM, CEFM
#1-Use the knowledge you have learned to this point and build upon it exponentially.
#2-Learn from those that have “been there and done that” to master the craft.
#3-Don’t act like you know it all because you don’t. Even us old guys learn something new every day and you will too.
#4-ALWAYS work as a team just like the athletes taking the field. You can’t win by yourself.
#5-At times I lean on the team to get the job done. At times they lean on me to make sure they get the support.
#6-Pay attention to your surroundings and adapt to the situation. Adaptation is key to being successful.
I believe it’s important to maintain a passion for our chosen career and enjoy coming to work each day. However, meeting our own self-prescribed expectations can sometimes be more difficult than anything else. Do not burn yourself out working too much; there are many great jobs within our industry that do not require 80+ hour workweeks.
Ask others and network about any problematic situation that may arise; someone else has likely been through it. Additionally, establish good and open lines of communication at work and at home. Lastly, appreciate everyone around you.
Noel T. Brusius, CSFM
Learn early that it is better to out-think problems than out-work problems. In our younger days it is natural to have the mindset that if something is wrong you can stay up all night and fix it. Sometimes this turns into a habit and regular practice when it is usually unnecessary. Emergencies will happen, but learn anticipation and think things through before falling back on the energy of youth.
You can learn something from anyone at any time. I have been doing this for over 20 years and I learn things from interns or seasonal employees all the time. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming an intellectual snob just because you have a degree or have been around a while. If you do, you will be cutting off a world of resources.
Patrick Coakley, CSFM
Find a mentor. Be respectful of their time, be a sponge, take what they are able to share and don’t forget to pay it forward.
Become a professional within your workplace. Don’t expect to start “at the top.” Work your way into more responsibility. Put in the time necessary to “build your experiential resume.”
Network with peers at your level who share the same challenges, opportunities and desire to grow. But also hang out with people who are in the position you would like to have someday.
Never stop learning. Don’t get stuck in a rut, doing things the same way over and over. Try new things. Find and embrace your “inner mad-scientist.”
Accept change! Adjust to change and use it to your advantage.
Learn new skills that will make you more marketable and will add value to your proposition.
Be consciously aware of your inner-critic, but don’t listen to it. Become comfortable being uncomfortable.