“What I wished I’d known”

Coming from Michigan State, they did a fantastic job in preparing us on what to expect from professional side of the industry and it has helped me tremendously up to this point in my career. What I wish I would have known more about is the time commitment that comes with working in this industry—it will put a strain on your personal life. That includes seeing family, starting/maintaining a family (dating, girlfriend, wife, kids etc.) and taking care of your own physical and mental health. This is something that may be hard to teach in a class. But, nowadays we have ways of sharing how we manage our fields, but our personal life experiences within the industry as well. When we open up about those experiences, we learn that maybe we should delegate some workload now and then, maybe go see that doctor for a physical, or emphasize having a date/family night to spend with your loved ones. Your quality of life outside the lines is just as important as the life between them. – Tyler Lenz, Ryan Sanders Sports Turf, TCU Baseball

Likely the one thing that I wish that I would have known is how critical field safety and measuring with a Clegg tool to ensure field safety is to keeping our athletes safe. Fortunately for me there were some very clear field standards that were available from ASTM and the NFL, which served to support our findings and the remedial actions that were necessary to provide a compliant surface for our athletes. – John Cogdill, City of Boulder, CO

  1. Managing turf grass is what I do, but it does not define who I am.
  2. When it comes to managing turf grass for other people, my opinion is irrelevant.
  3. Healthy work/life balance is vital.
  4. Grass is more forgiving than people are.
  5. Take care of the soil first; everything else will get better.
  6. Nature is a great equalizer.
  7. Do the little things well.

Don Savard, CSFM, CGM, Salesianum School, Wilmington, DE

I wish I would have known how much I was going to enjoy being in the sports turf industry. I would have gotten into it much sooner. The people in this industry are the best of the best. They are not just professionals at what they do but they are genuinely good people. I wouldn’t trade the relationships I have made for anything. Sports turf managers are people you can count on, on and off the field. – Steve Bush, CSFM CFB, agronomist

When I first started in this industry, there’d be jobs that I’d think were so important they couldn’t wait until the following day, and I’d find myself staying until all jobs were completed. Therefore, I’d tell my younger self that those jobs really could’ve waited until morning; what can’t wait are the moments with your kids. The key is determining when you really need to stay late and when you should be at home with your family. I saw a great quote on Twitter from football coach Gene Chizik: “There are three things you can never recover: one, words after you say them; two, occasions that you missed; and three, time when it’s gone. Make every day great with your children.” That second one really hits home in our industry when you think back on all the special occasions we’ve probably all missed out on due to our jobs. – Brian F. Bornino, CSFM, Purdue University Athletics

What I wish I had known when I started my turf career? The importance and value of saying ‘no’ without having to justify my answer. To this day my inability to say no remains both my biggest personal weakness AND my biggest strength as I take great pleasure in doing what I can to assist someone. However, an inability to say no also means that one remains regularly involved in too many things and cannot give enough specific attention to items that deserve more focus.

There was no way I could say ‘no’ to your request. – Dr. Mike Goatley, Virginia Tech

I wish I had read leadership and management books earlier on in my career. It took 10 years and a mentor to guide me in the right direction. These books helped me to become more understanding of situations and how to more consistent in decision making and planning. – David Nowakowski, CSFM, Harrell’s

Surround yourself with people that know more than you and have been in the industry longer. Don’t be too proud to take advice from someone who has been in the industry longer.

One of my first bosses told me that if you never make a mistake you are not working hard enough. It is how you handle the mistake that defines you. When we all start out there will be mistakes and that’s ok. It is how we overcome them that will determine if you will be successful in our industry or not.

Growth regulators are a game changer. I was nervous to use them when I first started managing athletic turf because I thought I would never get the growth to cover the bare areas on the fields. Boy, has my opinion changed! They are an essential part of my program now. – Allison Moyer, University of Richmond

It’s funny, I had this conversation with a good friend of mine in the industry a few weeks ago. We were talking about how much the technology of our profession has changed in the last 20-25 years with respects to all the equipment advancements, fertilizer differences, turf managers upping their cultural practices etc. But the one thing that I really said that I wish I had known when I was early in my career was how big of a network that there is within all Sports Turf Managers across the country, and even worldwide. And more specifically how we are all here to help each other. There was a time early in my career where I was scared to reach out to other STMs on certain items to make sure I didn’t sound incompetent or like an idiot or like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Today I have a totally different frame of mind. We have all made mistakes, have had failures, and challenges that collectively have made us better STMs. With the ability to share these challenges together it has made us such a stronger industry. There is not a day that goes by that we can’t pick up the phone, shoot an email, a text or visit one of our counterparts face to face and solve problems, share challenges and/or get another opinion on any issue. I think it is so powerful and such an amazing tool that we have in our toolbox that as a young STM I wish I had used! – Chris “Butter” Ball, CSFM, Turface Athletics

I wish I knew more about turf. I had a background in Recreation and Forestry/Arboriculture. Taking the Superintendent Position was an eye opening experience but the Director took a chance on me and it was hitting the ground running a marathon for me. I was able to forge great relationships with other Turf professionals and took classes and went to numerous seminars. I read many books and industry magazines on turf and grounds maintenance. I still have a small library from many articles that I cut out from those early publications. I am now in my 29th year in my position with the City of Framingham. I look back and realize how lucky I have been to be in my position and realize how many things in our industry have changed and how many things still remain the same. It’s all weather dependent. – Chris McGinty, City of Framington, MA

There are so many options for answering this question. Here are but a few that come to mind:

  • Maintaining a good work-life balance is not detrimental to your work performance. You have to hit the ‘refresh’ key regularly or else your work performance will suffer, not to mention your health and home suffering. Naturally, there are those stretches when work has to take precedence for a period of time. Just make sure you identify in yourself when that has gone on too long and you need a diversion.
  • Be prepared to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities along your career path. Careers rarely travel along a straight line. Continue developing soft skills that can apply to any career choice and don’t be afraid to take a chance on a new direction if it interests you.
  • Be the coordinator and the collaborator. Too often projects and/or processes go sideways because no one person is willing to bring the many factions and personalities involved in them together. Make yourself that person. Reach out to all levels and disciplines involved for their perspectives and to allow them to express their concerns. These discussions can be eye opening for everyone and ultimately result in better outcomes.
  • Learn how to read, interpret and manage a contract.
  • Read the MOU, Personnel Rules and Regulations, and Administrative Orders.
  • Develop strong relationships with the Finance Department, City Attorney’s Office and Human Resources.
  • As you advance in your career, defer credit to others whenever possible. Sure, you like to be acknowledged but there are so many contributors to your success that deserve as much or more credit. Make sure they get recognized.
  • Continually remind your staff that every task, at every level, is important.
  • Say ‘Hello’ to the custodians every time you see them.
  • Remember the goal of what we are doing is creating positive experiences for both our external and internal customers.

Don Scholl, CSFM, City of Tracy, CA 

Photo credit: Milton Hershey School, Derry (PA) Twp. Photo by Joe Barr