Upskilling and training is vital

TurfPro's guest editor, KARL MCDERMOTT, head groundsman at Lord's writes . . .

That time is fast approaching that winter sports are looking forward to the end of their season and summer sports are looking forward to, or dreading, the start of their season!  Of course, I say ‘dreading’ tongue in cheek. Cricket season comes around very quickly once the new year has passed, and it signs the end of our so-called downtime.

Playing seasons in all sports are getting longer and more intense. There was a time that the traditional 50 over final at Lord’s in early September would signify the end of the cricket season, but of late we have played cricket in October! There is better structure in youth and academy systems, and women’s profile and participation is growing by the day. They all require somewhere to practice and play, resulting in higher footfall across amateur and professional sporting venues. In my four years at Lord’s the number of practice sessions has nearly doubled. Floodlight use is a regular occurrence meaning late nights and still having the requirement for early starts the next morning.
There is a perception from the outside that once the final ball is bowled or the last ball is kicked, we all put our feet up, sit in the tearoom and hibernate until the start of the next season! As we all know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Football clubs have shorter renovation windows with players returning for pre-season early, and I dare anyone to try a full cricket square and outfield renovation at the beginning of a damp October month. With greater resources and the advancement of machinery it is clear to see on social media that clubs of all sports and levels are doing more extensive end of season works. When I started over 30 years ago, we only had an old pedestrian SISIS Rotorake with no drive, and a garden rotary mower to clean up. We also carried all the loam out bag by bag and spread it by hand with the back of a rake! 

lords pitch sml

This unseen work and the longer working hours mean groundstaff have less rest time. The buzzwords ‘work/life balance’ are regularly thrown around these days. Speaking from a cricket perspective it has been very difficult to find this balance. Times are slowly changing, and there rightly is more focus on trying to achieve a suitable middle ground so as staff can get sufficient rest and personal time. In all my working life in cricket I have only ever had one summer holiday. A lot of that is my fault, being part workaholic and part control freak but I do realise that this must change, and in my short three years as a father it’s frightening to see how quickly my girls are growing up. There are times with them that I don’t want to miss, and I am challenging myself to make time for those family moments.

But groundsmen and women of all levels are passionate and proud individuals. We all want to produce the best playing surfaces we can, no matter what our resources. I’m sure at some point we dreamt our pitch looked like Lord’s or Wembley, I know I did. This industry comes with a high level of personal sacrifice, and there is some apprehension about the future as it is getting harder and harder to find committed staff. There are regular stories of people leaving their grounds career to seek a more suitable role that fits into their personal life. Whilst it is concerning, I am hopeful that this will turn positive.

When you go to SALTEX or BTME you see a huge number of highly enthusiastic ‘groundies’, ranging from the volunteer at the local sports club to top professionals, all mixing together sharing ideas. The industry also has great support from businesses and magazines like TurfPro. I was also lucky enough to recently attend the Turf Business Summit in Barcelona where we had 100 top grounds people brainstorming the future of our industry. All of this gives me optimism for the years ahead.

I also believe there is an onus on grounds managers to make the industry sustainable. We can do this in many ways but to me the easiest win is developing our own staff. This can be done be upskilling them, either with external training or internal training if finances are tight. We need to include our staff as much as we can, educating them about as many aspects of the job as possible. I’d like my staff to fulfil any role at any time. Hopefully this gives them the confidence and desire to be as good as they can be. I also challenge them to come to me with their own ideas, and how they want to best promote themselves. The rewards are there for individuals, but it rightly takes hard work and dedication to get succeed.

For me I would do nothing else. From the first day I used an old Ransomes cylinder mower (that would never start!) I was hooked. I dedicated myself to my trade and put myself into situations that I was not comfortable with, especially when I was younger, but this gave me the drive and confidence to pursue my ambition of being a Test Match groundsman. With the unwavering support of my friends and family I achieved that dream - and if I can do it, anyone can!!

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