Who needs what?

Sports field managers are continually adjusting their management programs to fit the needs of field users and fluctuating weather conditions. Ownership, management and administrative personnel of the facility change. Budgets change; crews change; the number of fields, types of fields and the sports played on those fields change. Managing the communications flow throughout all this change may seem the least important component of the overall field management program. In many ways, it’s the most important.

First and foremost, develop an open-door policy with your staff, welcome and respect their input, and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. They are your team and the most important factor in your overall program.

Develop a list of all the individuals you interact with on a regular basis and note which organizations, departments or categories they fit into and what their position is with that group.

You’ll find you frequently work with several people at different levels within the same organization, such as the athletic director of a school system plus the coaches for the individual sports at multiple school sites. If you’re managing multiple sites, you might have some staff members based at those sites and others that travel between several sites, a direct supervisor or department head, a planning director and the communications director within your own organization, as well as the contacts for each of the field user groups and the coaches for the individual teams. You may also be working with booster clubs, parent groups, alumni associations, business sponsors and with funding directors of foundations, as well as other potential donors. You’re interacting with suppliers, and there’s always the print and broadcast media.

Once your list is complete, review the different groupings and develop cross-references as it fits your program. You might want all the contacts for spring soccer groups in one category and all those for softball in another. Or, you might want to compile a listing of all the spring sports groups that use a specific site.

Next, determine how much information and what kinds of information you need to communicate with the various groupings on your list. Some, such as first-time baseball or softball coaches, may need training in field prep and maintenance procedures. Others may need safety and first aid training and instructions on emergency action procedures. Others may only need to know cancellation policies and how to access cancellation information.

You’ll also want to determine what kinds of information you need to receive from those within the groupings you’ve defined. From some, you’ll only need practice and game schedules. From others, you’ll also need input on their policies and procedures and on their expectations for field conditions and setup.

Once the who, what and why are established, the when and how become much easier. Determine when your contacts need to receive the information and what methods will be the most effective way to deliver it. Also decide how far in advance you need to receive information from your contacts and what methods you would prefer they use to get that information to you.

Ideally, you’ll be able to streamline the communications process by using the same methods for delivering and receiving information, creating a two-way flow. In today’s world, multiple methods with 24/7 accessibility will not only be the most effective, they’ll also be expected—and may even be mandated.

A designated page on a Web site and a phone hotline make an excellent combination for delivering information. Both are accessible for your contacts to “tap into” at any time, and both are fairly easy to update. You’ll need to develop a system for reporting and posting the data. You, as the sports field manager, will generally make the call on field cancellations, either making that decision alone or in conjunction with others within your organization. However, in most cases, you’ll be working at the field site or managing the work of those that are, and may not be able to post the updates. So, designate an individual or team of individuals to do the posting. Set a specific time deadline prior to the start of the scheduled activity to have the posting in place.

In some cases, the local radio and/or TV stations will also assist in relaying cancellation information on sports events. If so, use that service along with your own postings and designate which individuals are authorized to make that contact. Don’t depend on it as the only, or even the primary, method of communication.

Consider setting up an e-mail address and a voice mail messaging service or answering machine dedicated specifically to receiving information on cancellations or other scheduling changes. Establish the time deadline prior to the event start time for receiving this kind of information. Designate an individual or team of individuals to monitor these messages and relay the information to the appropriate groups via your established posting methods.

Many baseball coaches handle the daily field maintenance and marking. A preseason training session conducted by the sports field manager serves as basic instruction for new coaches and a refresher course for returning coaches.

Set up a system to get the incoming information directly to you as soon as it is received—and even before it is posted. Develop a system to relay that information to your staff, too. You may want the staff, or at least key individuals on the staff, to be notified at the same time and by the same method as you, or you may want to relay the information to your staff along with any changes it may make in work assignments.

Consistency is important in managing this segment of the information flow. You and your field users need to know when and how the information exchange will occur so schedules can be planned accordingly.

How much is too much? Do you really want, or need, to be accessible 24/7? Though you and your staff may work 24 hours straight, or longer, during weather extremes or when handling special events, you can’t keep that up forever. Work with your facility to determine a workable time frame of accessibility and stick to it.

No matter how efficient your methods for delivering and receiving information, develop a system to ensure direct, personal contact on a regular basis. Face time is important in establishing the effective working relationships that allow you to manage the communications flow. You want your field users to know who you are and to feel comfortable talking with you directly.

Preseason instruction for new field users might include infield skinned area preparation on baseball and softball fields.

When possible, check in with the coaches before and after practices and games. Arrange preseason and postseason meetings with the officers and boards of your user group associations and attend a few of their meetings during the season. Conduct preseason training sessions for user groups in conjunction with your key staff members so the newcomers get to know you. Attend at least some board or council meetings that involve your organizations administrators and/or the public. Meet with the booster club and other support and/or funding entities and thank them for their efforts.

Meet with the local radio, TV and newspaper sports reporters prior to the start of each season to open the lines of communication and invite them to contact you directly on any field-related issues. Ask for the opportunity to contact them directly when you know field conditions will be questioned so you can explain what is happening and how you are resolving it. Pop into the press box or make it a point to talk briefly along the sidelines.

You and your field management program will benefit from this proactive approach to managing the information flow.

To contact the author, e-mail stevetrusty@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com