The Sports Field Management Association (SFMA) launched a new mentorship program, developed and implemented by the SFMA Learning Initiatives Committee.
According to SFMA Education Manager Jennifer McLendon, M.Ed., an SFMA mentorship program has been discussed and desired for many years, and the 2023 Learning Initiatives Committee collaborated to make it a reality.
“We are extremely excited for this program to launch,” said McLendon. “To grow the industry and the turfgrass profession, several factors were discussed. The common theme that continued to resurface was the need for individuals to feel supported and encouraged to grow professionally and individually.”
McLendon added that there are many individuals within SFMA willing to serve as mentors, and now that the program has launched the hope is that many will see the value in becoming a mentee and will apply to the program.
According to the Learning Initiatives Committee, the program will enhance knowledge and skill transfer among members, boost career development and advancement, develop meaningful and collaborative relationships within the industry, increase confidence and motivation for the mentee and bring awareness and solutions to difficult topics and situations that sports field managers encounter.
Learning Initiatives Committee Chair Alpha Jones, CSFM, said the mentorship program provides a recognized, board-approved mechanism to connect SFMA members who have qualifications and subject matter expertise that closely match the needs of the mentee.
“The energy that drove the creation of the program was primarily the knowledge that members were asking for mentors and to be mentors,” said Jones. “The buzz about the need grew louder after a presentation at the 2023 SFMA Conference about a mentoring relationship.”
“Mentor is defined by most dictionaries as (noun) an experienced and trusted advisor, or (verb) to advise or train someone, especially a younger colleague,” said Learning Initiatives Committee Member, Michael Goatley Jr., Ph.D. “John Clintsman and I presented ‘Mentoring for the Sports Field Manager’ at the 2023 SFMA Conference in Salt Lake City, and it elicited some nice discussion with our audience – many of whom attended our presentation to share their mentoring experiences.”
Goatley and Clintsman originally met at SFMA conference eight years ago when Clintsman purchased a copy of “Sports Field Management: Design, Construction and Maintenance” (a book co-authored by Goatley) and asked Goatley to sign it.
“You never know how, when or where a mentoring relationship might develop,” said Goatley. “For John and me, that was the beginning of a professional relationship that we have maintained and expanded as the years passed. As our mentoring relationship evolved, it became one of John’s goals for us to present together at conference – and the topic he wished to partner on was mentorship.”
According to Goatley, a lot of research went into the creation of the presentation, as did a survey of SFMA members. That data – along with feedback from colleagues and information from various business leaders – helped Goatley and Clintsman create an outline of the characteristics of a good mentor. That list included the willingness to share, demonstrating a positive attitude and acting as a positive role model, taking mentoring seriously, enthusiasm for the field, continued learning/growth, the respect of colleagues, the ability to set and meet professional goals, motivating others and valuing the opinions of others.
Jones added that he feels selflessness is the number-one trait that makes someone a good mentor. “A willingness and commitment to sharing yourself with others,” he added. “Empathy is another trait of a good mentor – the ability to walk in another’s shoes, to hear their story to better guide their mentee through challenges and successes.”
According to SFMA the mentorship program cycle begins in spring and concludes at each SFMA conference. Participants should be willing to commit one to two hours per month to the program, and mentors may have up to five mentees. Each mentor must be a current member of SFMA, be willing to commit time to the program, have significant and relevant experience in the sports field management industry and must submit an online application. Each mentee must also be a current member of SFMA willing to commit time to the program, and is required to submit the online application.
According to Jones, the first step to becoming a mentor is to ask yourself if you want to mentor someone and then evaluate what you have to offer a mentee.
Jones added that any SFMA member, new or seasoned, who desires to have guidance toward professional and personal development should apply to be a mentee.
Following the application process, mentor and mentee applicants are evaluated and matched. According to Goatley, SFMA will do its best to try to match people with similar interests based on survey responses. Both parties will then formally indicate a commitment on their part as an informal “contract” to be part of the program. There will be multiple possibilities in identifying what will become successful mentor/mentee relationships, with the ultimate goal being that both parties will grow professionally their roles.
As part of the mentorship program, SFMA will provide mentor training to equip mentors with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively guide and support their mentees. Training will cover active listening, effective communication, goal setting and providing constructive feedback. A roadmap to success will be provided to each participant to highlight monthly goals. Resources will also be provided each month to align with the roadmap.
SFMA will conduct regular check-ins with mentors and mentees to ensure that the program is running smoothly. The Learning Initiatives Committee will offer resources, guidance and support to mentors and mentees as needed. Mentorship program participants will also be recognized and rewarded. Mentorship program achievements will be highlighted in the monthly SFMA News Online, service points will be offered to participants, and participants will be acknowledged during the SFMA Conference and will be able to take part in a mentor/mentee meet and greet at the conference.
“Not every mentor/mentee relationship is going to succeed,” said Goatley. “It truly is a two-way street for which personalities must also match. Both parties have something to gain. Mentors usually will transfer knowledge to a younger generation, and have the satisfaction of knowing that they can help someone else succeed. Mentees who are receptive to that knowledge and grow their relationship with their mentors will grow professionally and one day assume a similar role for others.”
According to Goatley, when asked for descriptors of what makes for successful mentor/mentee relationships, the leading words submitted by survey respondents were patience, supportive, leadership, believe, truthful, trust, care, teachable, respectful and responsible.
“There was nothing surprising about any of these,” he said. “In reviewing the complete answers by our survey respondents, we felt there was one best answer that applies to either mentor or mentee – just be who you are!”
As SFMA embarks on its own formal mentoring program, it offers a unique professional opportunity for members to serve their peers and industry as mentors and mentees.
“There no doubt will be some tweaking to the program as time passes,” said Goatley. “But all committee members felt very strongly that this program was a great opportunity for our membership to grow professionally and personally in roles as either mentor or mentee. We encourage you to consider participating by completing the survey. If our membership benefits from these relationships, then the association and those we serve will benefit as well.”
Added Jones, “The ultimate benefit of the mentorship program is the creation of long-lasting relationships that – through committed effort – build the individual members involved, weaving a closer connection and strengthening SFMA and the industry well into the future.”