The Background…

People who spend their days in a cubicle often dream about working outside with the sun at their backs. But, after thinking it through, those same people realize lifting bricks and doing road construction is physically taxing work. But jobs do exist where you can spend your days outside and get that Vitamin D infusion without breaking your back. Becoming a baseball, football, golf or soccer groundskeeper gets you on the field, around the sports you love and allows you to express your creativity. Groundskeeper isn’t a job unique to the sports industry. People who tend and maintain a typically larger plot of land for aesthetic or needful purposes are called groundskeepers. Any sport that requires an outside field of play need them to prepare the field or course. Because events are televised, especially on the collegiate and professional stage, it’s important to have an aesthetically pleasing field to showcase the game. Sports groundskeepers are hired by a team to prepare the field before games start, maintain it throughout a game and repair it after before the next scheduled contest. Their task is to make sure the field is playable, free of major divots and manicured to perfection. A distinction should be made between ‘grounds crew’ and ‘groundskeeper’ though. The grounds crew is a seasonal team of workers that help the groundskeeper with the hands-on work required to get the field ready. The groundskeeper is a full time employee charged with creating the day-to-day field maintenance plan, providing input into grass type and length and developing ideas to make the field more self-sustaining. They’re also responsible for managing the grounds crew to complete the planned work on time. It’s a uniquely challenging role because the game day damage done by players to the field is so extreme. Whether it’s the start of a game or there are two minutes or two innings remaining, the field must be in top shape. The head groundskeeper takes the blame after a football game if none of the receivers kept their footing and the star running back sprained his ankle stepping in a divot. In this position, you’ll have to deal with weather extremes too. You‘ll need to understand weather patterns and how to best prepare and repair a field that’s taken on 12 inches of rain or been scorched by 120 degree on-field temperatures. Researching techniques to solve for these and other problems and presenting solutions to team leadership are part of a groundskeeper’s responsibility.

Groundskeepers, first and foremost, should have a ‘green thumb’ or at least have a ‘green heart’. If you love landscape design and earth studies, it’s a very rewarding job. And day-to-day stamina is important because, while you may eventually become a more hands-off leader, everyone starts with their hands in the dirt. Strong work ethic comes into play in-season as well because it isn’t a nine to five type of position. A CNN Money article claimed 50 hours per week is typical when the team is on the road and a whopping 80 or more hours per week when they’re playing at home. For a full time groundskeeper, the hours typically scale back to a standard 40 hour work week in the off-season. What other traits will help you be successful? Excellent communication and leadership skills will help you grow into a more senior position with management responsibilities. Becoming a full time groundskeeper for a major organization is a long road to hoe so patience and ambition are both vital. It’s easy to find a job with the local high school or junior college, get comfortable and settle in for 10 or 15 years. But, to really maximize your earning potential and challenge yourself, you’ll need to gain experience and then move on to a similar role at the next level. This ambition, an artistic eye for landscapes and an understanding of how to bring the best out of the earth will create a groundskeeper fit to care for a professional field.

 

The Path…

To be hired as a groundskeeper you’ll need relevant experience but also will rely on a professional network to get ahead in the business. College isn’t necessary if you’re willing to start as part of the grounds crew and work your way up but it will give you the relevant knowledge to make a more immediate impact.  College or not, no one steps into a head groundskeeper position at the highest level so learn from your mentors and the experiences you obtain along the way. If college is an option and you’re confident this is the career for you, the study of soils or turfgrass management is the most targeted degree you can obtain. Horticulture, earth sciences or landscape design are potential degree options if you like grounds keeping but aren’t sold that sports is the right industry for you. If college isn’t possible or of interest to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t become a great groundskeeper. Keep in mind that most people in this role outside of sports don’t have a college degree. On the job training and self-learning will, over time, give you the knowledge base to succeed in the job. But you need to start somewhere and, without college, an internship to gain your experience is out of the question. Getting on a golf course, baseball field or football stadium grounds crew and working with the groundskeeper is your best bet. Major and minor league teams and golf courses hire people of all ages for seasonal work to help maintain their fields of play. You’ll start building your network at these jobs to better position yourself for future moves. Because entry-level work is seasonal and this is a long term career path, this likely won’t be your only job. If you’re able to make it work and are hired back multiple seasons, you may eventually be offered a full time position with the organization. But as you build up your resume, try to work at multiple organizations across different sports. This various experiences make you more marketable to other organization.

 

The Money …

While official salary numbers for sports groundskeepers don’t exist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, various sources indicate starting salaries for full time employment begin around $30,000. This isn’t indicative of what a more seasoned groundskeeper working for a professional or collegiate team will earn. As you gain experience and are eventually employed with a top-tier organization, your compensation can push into the six figures. And, with your knowledge of turfs and field maintenance, you’ll also be qualified to earn extra off-season money consulting with high schools or junior colleges.

As with many sports jobs, it’s one of passion; people looking for a big, quick paycheck need not apply. But that ‘green thumb’ and a love of sports make it worth the hours and sweat you’ll put in to establishing your career in the industry.

One Comment

  1. Your aritcle is full of useful information. keep it up. I hope you keep writing more blogs like this one.

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