0 Maintaining sportsturf surfaces – what’s your intention?

Maxwell Amenity Senior Technical Manager James Grundy encourages the examination of one's own thoughts and perceptions with respect to some fundamental, site specific turf management questions. The answers to which collectively define your decisions and actions when maintaining sports turf surfaces over the year ahead. At its core, this article is about you and how you go about your work in the sports turf sector, regardless of the facility you maintain.

At a time of constant change, pressure drivers come to the fore; these are the factors which are driving change in management practices. From engaging with people across the industry, it is clear to see that sports turf management in the 21st Century is not getting any easier for professionals or volunteers facilitating a surface for play. It would surely be hard to disagree that the main pressure drivers are:

Climate Challenge

As a result of measurable, year on year rises in global mean surface temperature, resulting in more unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, making the management of consistent surfaces difficult. This within a context where there is often an increased need for 'little-and-often' maintenance and increasing play intensity.

Legislative Challenge

Society, and therefore the industry, now operates within an agreed framework for sustainable use of pesticides, as outlined within The Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012 and the UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (Plant Protection Products) 2013. These documents represent an agreed will which requires us to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment via food and water, and promotes the use of Integrated Pest Management and alternative treatments. Consequently, a suite of the most harmful pesticides available to end users to target weeds, pests and diseases is being withdrawn from use, requiring us to consciously think about and trial alternatives in an attempt to meet existing standards.

Technological Challenge

Advancements in autonomous technology, agronomic instruments, data gathering and interpretation technology over the coming 5-10 years will place increased pressure on job roles, and lead to a transition of knowledge and skills required by the people operating in the sector: from skilled manual labour with an emphasis on the practical, to skilled manual labour with an emphasis on agronomic and scientific understanding.

Economic Challenge

Across all sports turf maintenance disciplines, economic challenge comes about as a result of tightening margins, either from reduced income as a result of falling participation or increased expenditure as a result of increasing costs placed on manufacturers and distributors. In either instance, the effect of contracting margins can be attributed to one of, or a combination of, climate, legislative and technological challenge.

Within the golf greenkeeping sector, the Golf Course 2030 initiative launched by the R&A, in collaboration with many of the key industry bodies involved in greenkeeping, such as BIGGA and golfers in the form of the PGA, is one sport which recognises that looking ahead and being prepared to maintain participation, and therefore economic sustainability in a changing world, is a challenge which would otherwise negatively impact on the ability of sports turf professionals to facilitate a surface for play.

James Grundy

Preface

This article is designed to contain exercises which are engaging and challenging. They are not inherently difficult but, as we will see, your personal perceptions and your mindset as you read this introduction and process these words will directly impact on whether you stop reading now, read and then ignore, or read and engage. The first question is:

During a challenging time of change, can you afford to sit still or would you be wise to embrace an open perspective and a positive attitude?

The second question to ask yourself and then honestly contemplate, regardless of your answer to question one is; why?

If, even this preface seems too arduous, too time consuming, not relevant, too challenging, then once more the question to ask yourself is; why?

Whatever your answers to questions one, two and three, you may choose to disengage at this point, and for excellent reasons. Reasons which may be quantifiably valid: you may be retiring in one weeks' time; you may have the finest sports turf surface conceivable, with no day-to-day challenges to overcome; or you may simply have other priorities which mean the increasing challenges of sports turf management are not at the forefront of your attention.

Whatever your thought process (and there are no right or wrong answers) as you decide what to do now, just be confident that, in your mind, you are precisely 100% comfortable with your decision.

Plotting a Course Forward

Each year, anyone involved in the maintenance and management of a sports turf surface is afforded the opportunity to contemplate and plan how they are going to maintain their surfaces during the growing season ahead.

All of the above are equally valid depending on your circumstance and, to some degree, turf managers will be preparing to embark upon various iterations of each of these outcomes to a greater or lesser extent.

There are no correct, across-the-board answers in respect to how, or why, these outcomes are chosen to be implemented, as each facility, and each category of maintenance requirement, has its own set of distinct circumstances. Circumstances such as climate, soil type, construction type, previous maintenance, financial resources, labour resources, sport type and fixture pressure.

There is one word which should accompany these pre-growing season contemplations, a word which underpins the essence of every well thought out action. That word is intention.

Reasoned action

The Theory of Reasoned Action is a psychological theory (TRA) which sets out to describe how an individual's behaviour is determined by their underlying basic motivation to perform an action (Fishbein & Ajzen 1969).

Within the Theory of Reasoned Action, intention is the mindset required in advance of undertaking a task. Intention itself comes from a belief that performing an action will lead to a specific outcome.

When physically manifested by our actions, the intention to perform a task from a point of belief is categorised as behavioural intention, and behavioural intention is determined by a number of factors. Primarily, those factors include an individual's attitude to a behaviour and their subjective norms.

Subjective norms can be summed up as; an individual's perception of other people's attitudes and behaviours which then impact how they implement reasoned action. For example, everyone around me thinks 'activity x' is acceptable, so I'll participate; everyone around me thinks 'activity x' is not acceptable, so I will not participate.

The key word when considering the meaning of subjective norms is perception. As individuals, we like to tell ourselves we act with free will as we go about our daily lives, however, as a species, the truth is subtly different: we often perceive the world around us, not from the point of reality but from the point of how our brains interpret and then process external stimuli.

The paragraph above perhaps bears reading a couple of times over. It should become clear how a combination of belief and perception feeding back on itself has the potential to reinforce the conviction of one's reasoned action.

As a consequence, the way in which we combine our perception of things around us (subjective norms), with our beliefs, is the driving force determining the specific course of our reasoned action to any given goal.

The final core ingredient which determines the success rate for an individual's intention to perform a reasoned action is attitude. Attitudes to an action or behaviour takes one of three forms;

  • Positive
  • Negative
  • Neutral

It should come as little surprise to anyone that there exists a direct correlation between attitude and outcomes.

  • If an individual's belief informs them there is positive effect to be gained from a behaviour, the intention and reasoned action is more likely to be implemented and achieved
  • If an individual's belief informs them there is negative effect to be gained from a behaviour, the intention and reasoned action is less likely to be implemented and achieved.

This link between attitude and belief stands to reason. If you believe something is to your advantage, you will be openly motivated to give it a try. If you believe something is to your detriment, you are more inclined to close off and avoid it.

A word on cognition

A reasoned action and the mental state of intention is a precursor to cognitive behaviour.

Cognitive behaviour or cognition is the actualisation of the practical components arising from the mental state of intention and motivation. Put simply, you may decide to do something, and you may have the motivation; but do you have the cognitive ability to comprehend, to judge, to evaluate, to plan, to implement what it is you are motivated to achieve? If the answer is no, then what is the solution?

The solution or responsibility is to actively engage in acquiring the knowledge and understanding required.

Relating to sportsturf management

As discussed, when undertaking the pursuit of a goal, e.g. maintaining a sports turf surface, purchasing a piece of machinery or combatting a fungal pathogen, the interrelationship between the mental states of intention, desire and belief combine to determine a) how you go about it, or b) your chance of success as illustrated in the graphic above.

Put simply, reasoned action is required to accomplish the achievement of a goal. The manner in which one goes about achieving that goal and the chances of success are determined by a combination of the mindsets of belief, attitude, desire and intention. The obvious next step which follows from that understanding is an answer to the question:

"once I have identified what it is I need to achieve (e.g. reduced reliance on fungicides, control of an insect pest), what are the practical steps required to undertake and implement that action?"

The key questions

These preceding exercises are designed to prepare you for the key questions. These are the questions which are at the very heart of an individual, a team or an organisation, with the intention of taking reasoned action to meet new challenges and attain high quality professional standards.

If, once the processes and questions in Table 2 have been answered satisfactorily, for any given situation, whether that situation be philosophical: "why do I come to work?" or the practical "how can I reduce my fertiliser inputs?", they can be transferred into reasoned action with the confidence that you are taking a clearly defined course towards achieving your goals.

One final thought to reflect upon, when assessing the value of the key questions and the importance of undertaking reasoned action, is this:

Don't do anything unless you can answer the key questions because, if you can't answer confidently, how do you not know you are doing harm?

Four Key Principles

The preceding two thousand words may well be a little impractical to recall on a day-to-day basis, so here are four key principles that might stand you in good stead:

  1. Never be afraid to let it be known you do not know something, whilst in the process of actively pursuing and identifying what the goals actually are.
  2. Ask open-minded questions of yourself and others, in a bid to seek answers from sources you have rigorously determined to be credible.
  3. Formulate and record a plan then implement reasoned action with clear considered intent, before evaluating the outcomes.
  4. Relentlessly and habitually repeat 1 through 3.

Adhere to the above in enough areas, such as fertiliser programmes, wetting agent programmes, renovation programmes, pest and disease management programmes and ecology programmes. Then integrate them into one document where they each inform one another's content and you will be left with? ...

... a best practice, integrated management plan

Closing thoughts

If all of the above you have just read seems broadly reasonable and agreeable, whilst simultaneously confusing, confounding, or even overwhelming. The truth of how to go about actually achieving it all, is an answer so staggeringly simple we often allow our brain to talk ourselves out of it. So with our thoughts towards the Four Key Principles...

Just make a start. Be consistent and the rest will happen almost by accident.

As a species, change can often make us uncomfortable, we enjoy the comfort of certainty and routine. Change, particularly change which feels fast paced, can be paralysing. We second guess outcomes; how do we know which direction to move in? Will it be the correct decision? Will something else then change? However, we forget that, both from a philosophical and practical point of view, if there was one fundamental truth or law of existence, it is this.

Change is inevitable, universal and necessary for every facet of our existence. Taken back to the ultimate extreme; without those first infinitesimally minute changes, in the nanoseconds after the big bang, which created this universe, there is nothing. Nature is change.

Of course, that fact does not necessarily make the experience of change feel any more comfortable in practice as we go about experiencing it in our lives. How we experience change is of course like anything, a matter of perception. Which leads to this thought;

When we feel change as challenge and discomfort it reminds us we are in that moment presented with an opportunity to grow and improve; at life. Surely that is the purpose of a skilful existence?

Embracing that fact and engaging with that challenge requires us to slow down, slowing down to take time.

Doing so is not failure, it is a necessary truth.

Slowing down does not mean stopping, we can still maintain momentum, it is just that deliberately slowing down and taking time to think, to plan, to learn, to engage with the unknown, are all cognitive processes required when faced with a challenge or a bend in the road. It simply means evaluating a necessary change in direction, to give ourselves opportunity to avoid the hedgerow.

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