Alpha Jones CSFM
Alpha Jones, CSFM

More than Grass with Alpha Jones: The Standard is the Standard

With the launch of the new SFMA mentorship program, helping someone find their way in the green industry, learn something new about themselves or increase their network have been trending topics during the first quarter of 2024. The program has several participants in the early going and more are welcome.

Mentoring and coaching can overlap. Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers (of whom I am a longtime fan of both him and the team), is known for combining the two roles. I do not know Coach T personally – and my admiration of him is from afar – but my respect lies within his publicized intention to mentor and coach his players not just in the game of football, but as men in the game of life.

I recently had the opportunity to mentor someone who is not part of the green industry, but who was looking for help understanding how to confront the challenges of life. In our conversation, the mentee described an upcoming challenge which involved an admissions test score that they had hopes of successfully completing.

Without realizing it, this person stated several times the minimum score necessary to “pass the test,” as though reaching the minimum was their goal. They did not possess foresight nor understand the benefit of striving for more. As our conversation progressed, it became clear that this person’s current environment offered no encouragement or motivation to pursue more than just getting by. They frequently asked why they are stuck where they are; answer, because the minimum to get by was their standard.

Coach Tomlin is famous for offering quotes, often called “Tomlinisms,” to get the message across to his players and coaching staff. I offered one of his most famous quotes to my mentee – “The standard is the standard.”

Tomlin uses this phrase to create a mindset that, regardless of circumstances, everyone is to meet or exceed the high expectation of excellence. Many players, when leaving the Steelers organization, have been quoted as saying that Tomlin’s approach – and that phrase in particular – raised their work ethic and the standards they set for themselves.

Through further discussion with my mentee, the details of the scoring system showed that the organization recognizes a higher score as a greater success; thus, a higher score presents more opportunity within the organization.

So, we agreed that the standard is the standard; and their new standard would be earning a score significantly greater than the minimum passing score – yet still achievable. Their standard is now the standard of meeting or exceeding their own expectation of excellence rather than the minimum score communicated by the organization. This would affirm for them that they are capable of more than just enough to get by.

Mike Tomlin’s philosophy works for the individual or for the entire team because it sets an expectation where the challenge is to meet or exceed it. Is there an expectation in your workplace for the quality of work produced, the amount of effort or the commitment to getting things done? Whether you are the leader of your department, a member of the crew or even working your first internship, the quality of the work you produce and accept from others on your team is your standard. Can you or someone articulate that expectation to your team? Does the work the team produces match the quality and vision of what is expected?

Author Napoleon Hill is credited with stating, “Whatever my mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The standard is not set by when we show up or how hard we work; it starts with our mindset. Can we conceive, form or devise a plan that produces a desired goal? If we believe in it and accept it as true, then we can achieve it.

The standard we set for ourselves will show in the work we produce, our work ethic, our commitment to success and how we carry ourselves. It is reflected to others, and how we are perceived factors into our standard and how it is received. So, it is important to say what the standard is, act on that standard and believe in the standard; because the standard is the standard.

Alpha Jones, CSFM, is director of field operations for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers, MiLB affiliate of the Houston Astros. He also serves on the SFMA Board of Directors as Secretary-Treasurer.

For more information about the SFMA mentorship program, visit