Attending events like the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) Conference & Exhibition offers many benefits, like checking out new product offerings and attending top-notch educational sessions presented by industry experts.
But don’t underestimate another extremely valuable benefit of attending this event.
I’m talking about networking, of course. It involves catching up with old friends, making new friends, talking with your peers. It’s a chance to solicit advice about challenges you face on the job and rub elbows with other attendees, which can have the fringe benefit of helping you move up the career ladder.
Thirty-one groundskeepers from 15 of the 20 Major League Soccer clubs took advantage of the opportunity a setting like the STMA Conference & Exhibition provides and held an organized soccer summit, if you will. On Jan. 18 in San Diego, they got together (along with other soccer groundskeepers from around the country and even from several European clubs) to discuss topics such as pitch protection rules, FIFA field-testing methods, the latest in soccer pitch technology and other subjects.
After the summit, I spoke with one of the meeting’s organizers—Weston Appelfeller, director of grounds for the Columbus Crew. He described its genesis at last year’s STMA Conference & Exhibition.
“We had a soccer panel in 2015 where five or six MLS teams were represented,” Appelfeller recalled. “We started talking about some of the issues we face, and we found ourselves asking each other: ‘Who do you talk to with the league, as far as representation goes?’ We all had different people.
“There were some international groundskeepers there, and they mentioned some of the things the English Premier League is doing with (its) groundskeepers; they have an association. We said, ‘That’s a great idea, we should start that.’ We kind of left it at that and figured (that) if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Following that panel, Appelfeller and some of the other MLS groundskeepers headed over to the trade show, where they were approached by a rep from Covermaster.
“He said, ‘Hey, we don’t know if you guys have a group, but we’d love to be involved with you – the NFL and MLB are doing it, and we want to have something like that for soccer,'” Appelfeller explained. “Three weeks later, we had an initial phone call. Allen Reed from FC Dallas, myself, Covermaster, Toro, Syngenta and Turface started putting things together, which resulted in this [summit].”
The first half of the soccer summit was just for MLS groundskeepers. But the second half of the day was opened up and attended by other soccer groundskeepers as well, from colleges, soccer academies and several European clubs.
One of the hot-button topics discussed among the MLS groundskeepers was the idea of standardizing the pitches, league-wide.
“We talked about how to get them all to a level where they’re comparable so that, when the Crew goes to Chicago, for example, they’re playing on a very similar pitch to what they’re used to in Columbus,” Appelfeller said.
Appelfeller highlighted the networking and camaraderie aspect as something he particularly enjoyed.
“The main thing I took away from this was learning who the MLS groundskeepers are, what they’re doing and how they’re caring for their fields,” he said. “In preparation for this, I put together a master list of the groundskeepers from around the league—there’s some I had never heard of. I was calling stadiums and asking who the groundskeepers were for some of our clubs. For example, the Chicago Fire hired a new groundskeeper whom I didn’t know, but he came to San Diego and I got to know him really well.”
I asked Appelfeller if this clearly successful summit was going to become an annual event.
He didn’t even hesitate in his answer: