Great all-around baseball players are often described as “five-tool players.” They excel at five main “tools:” hit for average, hit for power, speed/base running, throwing and fielding. Many skills make up each of these tools, and all baseball players need them, but the great ones excel in all five. (Think of Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, among others.)
Here, I hope to simplify the complex set of skills I believe are needed to be an all-around great, “five-tool” sports field manager.
Equipment, applications and treatments. The first thing I teach a newbie is how to run the equipment. We start on the easy things like driving and using a cart. Then move up to mowing. Finally, comes the tricky stuff like running a tractor while monitoring ground speed, swath integrity, PTO and the implement, RPM and implement lift. It always amazes me how some get things right away, and some never will. Applications must be done correctly to be successful and, in some cases, to be legal.
Field preparation. This is the heart and soul of our profession. All other skill sets are used to make it possible for us to prepare a quality field. While you can learn some basic concepts in books, the only real way to learn these skills is to gain experience by apprenticing under a qualified sports field manager. This takes time – three to five years in my opinion. You must be able to read and understand specifications as well as write them. Not only must you know everything about field painting, both functional and decorative, you also need the artistic talent to do it well and efficiently. Good mowing skills enhance the prepared field. You’d better understand the weather and forecasting, lest Mother Nature will laugh as she ruins your efforts.
Turfgrass science/turfgrass management. Unless you exclusively maintain artificial fields, you have to be an expert in turfgrass management. This has to come from formal education. There are just too many scientific principles behind how and why your natural grass field works. It is a complex natural system. You will fail if you don’t know soil science, soil fertility and soil physics; not just for turfgrass rootzones, but also for skinned area work. You will fail if you don’t understand, in detail, how your particular grass grows and develops. A four-year degree serves best, and there are many good two-year programs, but this education is a must. Some very good certificate programs build toward a college degree, and more programs are available on the Internet than ever before.
Event management/turfgrass interactions. If you don’t get involved in how your field is used, all the groundsmanship in the world won’t save things. In the event design process, your ability to foresee what damage can occur may help avoid much of that damage. Special events must be open to our input. We must make sure it’s done right in order to protect the field. We have to know the various turf protection systems and floorings and how to use them. Here’s where we need those quick repair skills. You will be asked to estimate precisely how fast you can bring a field back from damage, and you best be right.
Business skills. To me, good communication skills (verbal and written) are important. We must be able to simply explain a complex situation and sell our program to the administrators. Obviously, we must be good managers of our budgets. It’s more important today than ever. As leader of our team, we need good human relations skills. A great man and wonderful teacher, my old college turf professor, the late Dr. Jackie Butler, used to write on the chalkboard: “There are no grass problems, only people problems.” A sports field manager must be a good planner and an excellent project managers, highly efficient with limited time on the field.
Ross Kurcab, who holds a bachelor’s degree in landscape horticulture/turfgrass management from Colorado State University, has 26 years of turf management experience and was the first Certified Sports Field Manager. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.