Education options for sports field managers

Sports turf management is more than mowing grass and painting lines on a football field. Today’s sports turf manager needs to have a more holistic approach to managing sports fields that includes economics, productivity, environmental stewardship and social responsibility. This holistic approach is constantly evolving as the industry develops better maintenance practices or introduces new technology. A sports turf manager must also be proficient in non-agronomic practices, like budget and personnel management, communication, and new equipment like remote sensing and precision application.

Keeping up to date with all of this obviously requires a commitment from the sports field manager and their place of employment, but there is a plethora of educational opportunities available in the sports turf sector.

First, there are universities and colleges across the U.S. that offer high-level education in turfgrass management. About 80 percent of all U.S. four-year institutions offer degrees in practical studies – fields rooted in preparing students for a specific vocation, and there has been an increase over the last 10 years in community colleges and technical institutions offering vocational course at regional campuses. Bachelor’s and associates degrees in turfgrass science are available in just about every state (Table 1).

A recent member survey conducted by The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) found that over 70 percent of field managers and first assistants had completed some kind of degree program, and more than 90 percent or respondents had experienced some form of college education (certificates, etc.). Interestingly, and unexpectedly, they also found that the level of education was not a significant factor in compensation. In other words, there was no major difference in salary between a two-year certificate program and a bachelor’s degree among the respondents. There was, however, an increase in salary for certified sports field managers when compared to those who are not certified.1

How an individual goes about learning new knowledge and skills also varies. Some will go to university and look for employment after they graduate, some will join the workforce straight out of school and learn as they work.

Regardless of the path chosen, it is essential that sports field managers commit to lifelong learning, as it is an ever-evolving science and art. For the purpose of this article, the term “continuing education” will be used for this form of lifelong learning.

Continuing education (CE) has always played some role in education at the regional level through community college courses or seminars, or association conferences and events. Sports field managers can work full time and also attend a day seminar, conference or evening class. CE plays an important role to the thousands of sports field managers that cannot attend college full time.

However, CE is evolving. It is changing in response to the economy, the demands and interests of learners, and the role technology plays in the world. CE programs are fast becoming more mobile. Online courses are being formatted so students can take them via mobile devices, and printed materials are being turned into e-books. Educational materials are being offered online in short bursts (like webinars), so a field manager could sit at his desk during lunch and get up to date on new fertilizer technology. CE will continue to play a big role in the education of sports field managers, and there are several CE opportunities available.

Online courses. There are a number of courses available on the Internet that have been tailored to meet the educational needs of industry professionals like sports field managers and assistants. The Ohio State University (OSU) and The University of Georgia offer online certificate courses specific to sports field management, which are endorsed by the STMA. OSU also has online courses in general turf management, sports turf in Spanish, and courses are being developed in baseball field management and soils 101. Penn State University offers a range of online turf courses through its World Campus program, and there are others, such as the University of California Riverside, that have developed online materials.

Annual and regional conferences. The national Sports Turf Managers Association holds a conference and show each January. Around 2,000 people attend the annual show. In 2013, the conference and exhibition will be in Daytona Beach, and there will be over 90 hours of education offered.

The STMA has 33 chapters in the U.S. that hold regional seminars and educational events. Local turfgrass associations typically offer educational opportunities in the form of seminars or conferences. In Ohio, for example, The Ohio Turfgrass Foundation (OTF) Conference & Show is held each December and has over 2,000 attendees. The OTF offers the conference in conjunction with OSU. It’s common for state turfgrass associations to team up with state universities to offer these types of conferences.

Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) program. The STMA has developed a certification program for sports turf managers that recognizes both the level of education and time spent in the field (experience). Attaining CSFM status is a process that is meant to challenge a person’s knowledge of managing sports fields, and to draw all aspects of background in education and experience to prove that the applicant is one of the best in the industry. There are currently 150 CSFMs, and it is considered a prestigious accolade. Once CSFM status is granted, it is up to the CSFM to annually renew their status by taking classes and earning continuing education units (lifelong learning).

Webinars and podcasts are offered by a variety of universities (Florida, Cornell, Ohio State), as well as associations (STMA) and private companies (TurfNet). Some are free, others require a small fee.

Websites and social media: Most, if not all, universities, associations and other education-based turf groups have a presence on the Internet either by website, Facebook, Twitter or blog. They may also have a channel on YouTube, a presence on Linked In, a gallery on a photograph cloud like Flickr, or an “app” you can download on your smartphone.

The amount of information out there on turfgrass management is actually quite huge, but remember that information is not education, so try to select educational materials that are offered by a reputable, nonbiased source, preferably rooted in science and fact.

Whatever educational path is chosen, the important thing is to keep on learning. Sit down at lunch and watch a webinar, read an industry magazine on a rainy day, and plan on attending an annual conference, not just for the education, but also for the networking and collegiality. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

1Reference: 2012 Compensation & Benefits Report, Sports Turf Managers Association.

Pam Sherratt is a sports turf specialist at Ohio State University and served on the STMA board of directors from 2010-2011.