“If you act like a doormat, people will treat you like one.” I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but it’s one of my favorites. If it’s true that people treat you how you act, what would happen if sports field managers acted more professional? We talk about it all the time – being a professional – but what does that really mean?

By any objective definition, we are professionals by the nature of our work. Our work requires education and a specialized set of skills. We have a professional organization (STMA) with a certification program (CSFM). Go down the list, and ours is a professional endeavor. Nevertheless, who could argue that our profession is seen by many as nothing more than unskilled labor? Why the disconnect? I believe a big part of the answer is in our attitude and the image we project.

Pop culture mirrors society. Movies tell us much about our general beliefs. You can tell a lot about the common image of a profession by how it’s portrayed in the movies. Movie roles of sports field managers or groundskeepers are the worst. Groundskeepers are often the creepy killer in horror flicks. “Dirty Harry” fans will remember the villainous killer Scorpio, who lived in the groundskeeper’s closet in Kezar Stadium. Is this what folks think of us? Having to live in the boiler room of the dirty stadium? “Caddyshack” came out in 1980, was funny as heck, and our professional image still hasn’t recovered from the role of Carl Spackler (Bill Murray). Another favorite of mine, “Major League” (1989), had the professional ball field maintained by two non-English-speaking immigrants. Groundskeeper Willie on “The Simpsons” lives in his equipment shack and can’t read (at least he’s physically “ripped”). Great googly moogly! There are many more examples, but what I can’t find is a pop culture role for a groundskeeper that is anything but a dirty, dumb or psychotic, unskilled stereotype.

When you go to social functions and people ask what you do, do you feel the need to explain that you are really a professional, not a stereotype? Perhaps part of the problem is the relative youthfulness of our profession. We have only organized as professionals for about 30 years. It takes time to change a perception.

Maybe the reason has to do with how we as sports field managers carry ourselves. Our attitude and the image we project all too often don’t reflect the professional status we want. Not always, and not every sports field manager, but there are some things each of us could do to project a more professional image, and it all starts with attitude.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goals; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” -Thomas Jefferson

Read any book on success and leadership, and a positive attitude will be a key ingredient. Look at elite-level athletes; they are already successful by their elite status, and almost all have a game-by-game approach with a confident, optimistic outlook. They have been coached in these ideals. Put the bad play or game behind you and forget it. Focus on the here and now. Believe. Get the right mindset. Sound like a coach? Well, the thing about a good attitude is we don’t all have a coach reminding us about it. Perhaps the most important thing for us is to be aware of our attitude. Being aware of our attitude will improve it. The default setting seems to be a bad attitude. At least that’s how it works for me.

A professional sports field manager (SFM) doesn’t wear dirty clothes and hats. If there is dirty work to do, there is a set of clothes for this. The shop and facilities are clean, well-lit, safe and pleasant. The equipment is well-maintained, because you never know when its use may be mission critical. A professional SFM makes the best treatment decisions on the fields, and gets the work done correctly and expertly. He learns what he must in order to do this, maximizing lessons learned from experience. He doesn’t shy away from learning, because he realizes the art and science in turfgrass and field management is continually updated and improved. When qualified with sufficient education and experience, he becomes a certified sports field manager (CSFM). The professional SFM pays attention to details, because he believes fans, players, coaches and the public don’t notice the details consciously on his field, but it registers to them subconsciously. A perception and image of excellence is the result. A professional SFM helps others with his expertise when possible.

Pair these virtues with a good attitude and what you have is a professional that gets treated like one. Like most, I have plenty of room for improvement in all these areas. What would happen if every morning as we prepared for work, we took just a minute to look at our attitude and the elements of professionalism? Maybe nothing, but we would be happier.

Finally, I would like to try a mailbag-style column sometime. Something along the lines of “I’ve always thought this, what do you think?” I’ll keep you anonymous if you wish. Please no how-to-type questions. Email me at the address below and we’ll see how it goes.

Ross Kurcab has a bachelor’s in landscape horticulture/turfgrass management from Colorado State University, 26 years of turf management experience and was the first Certified Sports Field Manager. You can reach him at ross@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com.