As any sports turf professional who’s responsible for leading a crew knows, the job description includes much more than managing turfgrass. One of these non-turfgrass duties is managing personnel, including interns. Often very valuable additions to a crew, interns provide needed seasonal help and can be essential to completing various day-to-day maintenance tasks on fields. But interns are also there to benefit their own careers by gaining crucial experience, learning concepts and acquiring the know-how that’ll be needed once their full-time careers actually begin.

Properly utilizing interns and providing them with the most enriching experience as possible during their stay are acquired skills necessary to be a successful crew leader. With that in mind, we spoke to two turfgrass professionals experienced in this aspect of field management who provided tips and insight with regards to leading interns:

Mike Kerns

Director of Grounds
Trenton Thunder, Arm & Hammer park
(Double-A affiliate of the Yankees)

Kerns began with the Thunder in 2013 as assistant groundskeeper and was then promoted before the 2014 season. In his position, he manages usually two interns per season (Kerns prefers to call them “seasonal assistants):

Working with interns: “When we get turf students, I look for their willingness to want to learn. There’s a big drop-off between the ones who are in turf and want to do this as a career and the ones who don’t. Interns’ willingness to learn is the number one thing they bring to the table. They’re willing to get their hands dirty and listen. I use my interns to run all the ‘extra’ events here. For example, when there’s a high school game, they line the field. I give them a lot of responsibilities when it comes to events like that.”

Difficulties he faces: “Internships are a revolving door – it’s hard to get people to buy into what we’re doing here. It’s easier when interns are out of school and are looking to take that next step in their career. But as far as the interns who are in school still, I’ve found with some that it can be hard to get them to really dig in, or to care that much. A lot of times, they aren’t from this area. They’re coming from school to a new place, and in a matter of 10 to12 weeks they’re on their way out. When they’re coming from school, we get people in May and they’re gone in August. You’ve got workers who have been here since April 1 (or my other assistant, who started in March) and you have a different relationship. We’ve worked together for three months, and then all of a sudden that chemistry that’s there – well, now you’re brining someone else into it. So you’re trying to bring that other person in as comfortable as possible.”

Tips for field managers: “Learn your intern’s personality. This will take a couple of weeks. Different people move to different beats of the drum, so it’s all about figuring that out. They can be very valuable in getting things done. You have to give them specific responsibilities; they can’t just be ‘workers.’ I tell my interns, ‘OK, you’re on the mound,’ or ‘OK, you’re on home plate.’ Their responsibility for the whole time they’re here is to make sure those areas are taken care of. Also, trust them and try not to micromanage.”

Ty Vaden

Head Groundskeeper
Potomac Nationals, Pfitzner Stadium
(Single-A affiliate of the Nationals)

Vaden became the P-Nats head groundskeeper in August and manages seasonal “gameday” help in his position. He also completed successful internships with Kerns and the Trenton Thunder, the San Diego Padres and the Richmond Flying Squirrels:

On interning in both MLB and MiLB: “You get a lot more hands-on experience in the minor leagues. If you’re in the majors, the crew is big and you’re probably not going to be able to do everything. In the minors, it’s often just you and the head groundskeeper, or you and the head groundskeeper and the assistant. In these cases, it’s easier to come in and do everything and it’s great to experience it that way. It helps to prepare you for wherever you end up with afterwards.”

What he looked for from a head groundskeeper, as in intern: “How hands-on is the heads groundskeeper? Is he going to show me how to do something once and then go sit in his office? Or is he going to show me how to do something once, let me have the reins but be out there with me and available to help? There are certainly different ways to do things. They can show you how to prepare.”

Being a good manger: “We’ve had high schoolers, some of which might be interested in a turfgrass career. I’ll show them how to do things, whether it’s edging, preparing the mound or preparing home plate. I show them and after that I let them take the reins, but I’ll be there and help out.”

Importance of internships: “They’re extremely valuable. There’s a lot of different things you need to know about being a head groundskeeper that you’re not going to learn in school. In college, I didn’t learn about clay work or infield skin. I learned about things like proper N-P-K amounts and fertilizer use. I didn’t learn about building home plate areas or how to repair them. Internships provide this necessary learning and experience.”


Actions speak louder than words. This cliché is true, especially when you’re the leader of a crew. I have a saying when it comes to leadership: Leaders lead, managers manage, supervisors supervise and everyone trains and mentors.

A successful organization must be a continual teaching and learning environment. Regardless of the structure of the organization, the leader at the top defines all facets of the organization. We influence others through our actions, especially when we’re in a leadership role. The challenge is that it isn’t just great leaders who are leading by example; we all are. Since people are watching and are being influenced by our behavior, it brings up an important question: What’s the example we want to set for our team?

The key attributes to look for are:

  • Engaged and empowered
  • Flexible and open to change
  • Focused, good attitude
  • Good work ethic
  • Reliable and trustworthy

What do these things really mean as we work each day? If you can’t answer that clearly, you can’t lead by example because you don’t know what the example is supposed to be. In other words, to lead by example in relationship to the previous list, we need to know what we really mean and determine what behaviors create those outcomes.

For instance, if you want engagement and empowerment, consider the following behaviors:

  • Act like a leader and make decisions based on what’s best for your operation. Be proactive, asking what you can do to help or improve a situation.
  • Be accountable, recognizing that there’s always part of the project or result that you can impact in a positive way.
  • If you make a mistake, own it.

Remember, while your words matter, what you do matters far more. If you want your influence to be positive and productive, you must be clear on what you want from others, and then make sure your actions, as well as your words, support that. When you do this, you’re leading by example in an intentional and productive way.

Source: Turf magazine