You are always training – through your actions, words and attitude. Some of the most impactful lessons your staff will learn will be taught by how you conduct yourself in difficult, stressful or adversarial situations. Keep that in mind as you develop your formal training program.

Mentor or builder

Determine your objectives. Are you training primarily to build a cohesive team that will be long-term employees or to mentor current employees for leadership positions of their own? While the training processes may be identical, your employees need to understand your expectations to make sure they are a match for their goals.

Set priorities

While cross-training employees to step into multiple positions is a wise and, generally, a very workable practice, concentrate on your immediate needs first. Determine what skill sets are most necessary for your program; which personnel are best suited to learn them; and schedule the appropriate training.

Explore training requirements and options. Some facilities or organizations require basic procedural and/or safety training for all personnel that must be completed before they begin a job or within a specified time from the start of their employment. Make sure those requirements are met.

Weed identification training can be part of a field tour.

Some facilities or organizations have developed training sessions or video training for specific positions or skill sets. Some suppliers may offer similar resources related to use of their equipment or products. Arrange to use these when appropriate.

Develop a list of the basic skills you want an individual to master before being assigned to complete a specific task with minimal supervision and/or no direct supervision.

Plan the most effective way to teach those skills based on your available resources. Many on-field tasks require observation first, followed by practice with supervision, prior to achieving the competence needed to perform the task without supervision. Identify the experienced staff members that can assist you in this training. Then develop a timetable to turn your plan to action.

In all training, build in sufficient time for a question-and-answer exchange between the individual being trained and the instructor.

Teach your employees that good working relationships are based on mutual respect. Accept nothing less. They need to learn how to work together as a team, the art of give and take and how to be aggressive – but not adversarial – when necessary to stand up for their principles.

Safety first

Employee safety must be your top priority. Make sure all training includes the proper procedures to ensure employees are safe on the job.

Start with the basics, such as wearing proper attire and following best practices for lifting and loading and unloading tools and equipment.

Soil sampling during a field day training lesson on soils and layering.

Make sure all safety procedures are included as each new skill set is demonstrated and practiced.

Don’t assume knowledge, especially most basic aspects of equipment operation. Use the machine’s operator’s manual or basic instructional video for the first training session and emphasize the safety features and procedures required prior to any actual equipment use.

You, or an experienced staff member, should always demonstrate proper equipment operation and usage in a one-on-one training session with an employee. Then, allow the employee to operate the machine under direct supervision.

Keep records

No training is complete without a method of tracking when and how the training occurred. The process must include a verification from the instructor that the training has taken place and a verification by the employee that the training has been received and that it has been understood. Most facilities and organizations with established human resources departments will have a standardized form (paper or computerized) that must be used for this reporting. Make sure that all required information is entered properly and the completed form has been received by the designated personnel and added to the employee’s records.

Keep your own records, too. Record the training on the list of the basic skill sets you want an individual to master, following the same verification by the instructor and the employee being trained. This not only provides a backup record of the training, but also gives you a quick checklist to consult to make sure an employee is properly trained to take on a new task.

Be open and honest

Sports field crews work hard and put in long hours, often with relatively low pay and little expressed appreciation of the value of their work. Acknowledge that, but don’t let it lower their standards or yours. Establish your standards for employee performance and make sure your entire staff is aware of them and accepts them. You’ll be training to those standards.

Let your staff know that you don’t have all the answers. In this profession you’re always learning – and they will be, too. Be willing to share mistakes you’ve made along the way. It can help your employees avoid making the same mistakes and become better sports field managers in the process.

Be patient and persistent

Training, especially hands-on training of physical tasks, often involves trial and error. Accept that; and keep the training going to overcome it.

Be aware of the different styles or methods of teaching and learning: visual (seeing), auditory (hearing) and kinesthetic (touching or doing). For most people, one of these three is primary, and the other two are secondary. When possible, especially in one-on-one training, adapt the style of teaching to the primary style of the individual being trained.

Repetition works. Skills practiced over and over become ingrained sooner than those practiced sporadically.

Develop a retraining program on all the basics at the start of the spring season, not just for your seasonal employees, but for your entire staff.

Use all available resources

Local, regional or national conferences and seminars can provide training and/or continuing education for staff members from the least to the most experienced. Check out the program offerings to determine which personnel would benefit most from specific sessions and schedule as many attendees as your budget will allow. Split up your staff to cover as many relevant sessions as possible and arrange for attendees to give a report on their sessions to your entire staff.

Follow a similar procedure for turfgrass field days, determining from the format whether your staff will gain more by viewing in-the-field demonstrations and/or turf plots individually or as a group. Often, with these programs, interaction within your staff in response to what they are seeing and hearing can be almost as valuable as the formal presentations.

Arrange in-house training sessions with your own experienced personnel serving as the presenters for specific skill sets or operational procedures. Use small problems as opportunities for impromptu training on how to resolve that issue.

Taking a group of staff members on a field tour provides a forum for discussion.

Provide opportunities

You’ve hired intelligent people; expect them to have some ideas of their own. Give them the opportunity to try something they believe will work. There are many paths to the same goal and even the best techniques may benefit from fine-tuning. You’ll both learn from the experience.

Develop a program for cross-training that will enable your staff to learn new skill sets and perhaps lead to career advancement. Set the qualifications required to take part in the training and a timetable for completing it. Create opportunities for the employees taking part in cross-training to put their new skills to work.

Teach management strategies

Identify those with the interest and ability to move into a management position, and develop a program to train them to interact appropriately with the facility or operations management staff; coaches and players and other field users; suppliers; the media and the public.

Make time to share your personnel management procedures and your turfgrass management program, digging into the why as well as the how.


As staff members apply the skills they’re learning, look for opportunities to praise them for doing something right. This builds their skills and their confidence level. Acknowledge small milestones; sports field management is a combination of art and science and learning takes time.

Praise in public; correct in private. Attitude matters. Help your staff learn that there always will be circumstances you can’t change, but it’s always possible to change the attitude with which you view those circumstances. Train your staff to approach problems as opportunities to explore solutions, rather than insurmountable obstacles.

Welcome feedback

Invite employee feedback on the training they’ve received. Find out what parts of the training process worked well for them and why they felt it was effective. Be equally open to hear why some segments of the training didn’t work for them, why they felt that happened and what they would suggest to improve it.

Ask what training they have not received that they’d like added to your training program and what that training would help them accomplish. Encourage them to rate the instructors – including you – and what it was about that individual’s training methods or delivery style that warranted that ranking.

Continually update your training program

Conduct your own training program evaluation. Review what training was provided, when it was provided, who conducted the training and how that training was reflected in employee performance. Determine if the results met your expectations and what you could incorporate into the training to make it more efficient and effective. Make those adaptations to fine-tune your training program.