0 Tomorrow's World today

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During the late 1980s, BBC's Tomorrow's World programme ran a regular feature called Tomorrow's World 2020. It aimed to project the major issues and trends of the day, no doubt with an inevitable mixed level of success. As a young avid watcher, such a year seemed a long way off. But, somewhat excitingly here we are - the future, here, now, today! So, what does the reality of 2020 and beyond have in store for us as turf management professionals?

I would suggest that two key ongoing fundamental principles will dominate 2020 and the oncoming decade ahead.

Permanence
noun

"the state or quality of lasting or remaining unchanged indefinitely."

Of course, if there ever was one core representation of permanence it is the permanence of change, but we will consider that later. In respects to turf management, many things will remain unchanged permanently, not only in 2020 but way beyond.

Plants will require adequate nutrition throughout the year, soils will need to be maintained in a manner which facilitates open pore spaces for the diffusion of oxygen in, and carbon dioxide and other waste gasses out. The same healthy soil structure will facilitate the penetration, percolation and retention of life giving water which, as a master variable within the system, is required to be present in adequate quantities throughout the year.

Soil and plant associated microorganisms will need to be encouraged and nurtured in a bid to foster a functional multifaceted plant-soil ecosystem. The functioning of this ecosystem will be determined by cause and effect, action and reaction, where every input or operation undertaken by the player or turf manager has an equal and opposite reaction. When we get the balance correct desirable plants will prosper, beneficial microorganisms will flourish and abiotic plant stress and abiotic pathogenic plant stress will be mitigated, reduced and avoided.

All the above factors are now and forever will be the core principles underpinning a sports turf surface of consistent quality. As we enter a new year and prepare for the growing season ahead, it is worth taking some time to reflect on the fundamental simplicity of the factors outlined above. Individually, none of these principles is difficult to comprehend. The difficulty, of course, comes from the complexity arising from the interconnected and multifaceted dynamic relationship between each of the factors. Often, it seems from people there is a desire and a satisfaction to be gained from feeling as though one has control of the system one is managing. It may be helpful to reflect that such a notion can mask the truth. As turf managers, we manage the uncontrollable, the precisely undefinable. We manage within nature, and 'manage' is all we can be expected to achieve.

As with many words in the English language, manage can have multiple meanings, two of which are represented above. Of these two definitions, which most closely matches expectations and perceptions of how turf managers undertake producing a surface to facilitate play, and which most closely matches the functional reality of the complex ecosystem we are responsible for? On one hand, the word manage is confident and definite, leading to feelings of control and order. 'What do you do?' asks person A. 'I manage the system' responds person B. On the other hand, it can be less confident or definite; 'how are you getting on?' asks person A. 'Oh, I'm just about managing' responds person B. Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that the highly capable professionals in the turf sector are 'just about managing', what I am employing this example for is by means of illustration.

The suggestion is, that to be in charge or control of a multifaceted, interconnected plant-soil ecosystem, when it is underpinned by the fundamental principles of cause and effect, which then leads to an incredibly complicated and diverse environment, is not necessarily as helpful as it could be, in assisting someone to conceptualise how to most appropriately manage a turf ecosystem in an integrated way. The use of the word manage, to suggest we are in control, or maintaining order is flawed. Rather the truth is; that at any one time all we can ever realistically hope for is to be just about managing to keep the ecosystem in line as best as we can to achieve our desired outcomes. Of course, the way to keep the ecosystem in line as best we can is to seek a greater level of precision by gaining a greater level of understanding and appreciation for the interconnected nature of the detail.

If manage in the form of definite control is not helpful, may I suggest the word responsible is a more fitting way to describe the role of a turf manager. This suggests a person who is under obligation to be responsible for understanding and making decisions relating to the maintenance of a plant-soil ecosystem; with the aim of facilitating a surface for play. Of course, Turf Responsible is not really a term likely to roll off the tongue and head up job descriptions any time soon.

Perhaps Head Custodian is a more fitting job title for the most senior person within our grounds and greenkeeping teams.

Custodian
noun

"a person with responsibility for protecting or taking care of something or keeping something in good condition."

Change
verb

"to make or become different"

"to form a new opinion or make a new decision about something that is different to your old one"

As alluded to earlier, change is the greatest representation of permanence in existence; without it, this planet and the life upon it, would never have come to be.

Change was the premise upon which the BBC's Tomorrow's World programme existed. And, whilst many of the universal truths of sports turf maintenance will not change as we enter the year 2020, it is accurate to state that change is the greatest challenge society and sports turf management face over the next decade. Whether it be change on the largest scale as a result of climate change or the sociopolitical changes which arise as a reaction to what is increasingly being accepted by science and society at large as a climate crisis.

Inevitably, changes will occur in the sports turf industry, but a key thing to remember is that the fundamental truths, underpinning the function of the systems we manage, will remain permanent. The climate, the sociopolitical and economic environments will always change, core truths of nature will not.

Embracing and adapting to change

Adaption to change is a mindset, something realised in the pioneering work of Stamford Universities renowned social and developmental psychologist, Professor Carol Dweck, whose years of research on motivation, personality and development were presented in her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

The primary premise of which, is that those who consider that their success and achievements are based solely upon innate ability are defined as having a "fixed" theory of intelligence (fixed mindset), whereas those who consider that their success and achievements are as the result of incremental application, commitment, determination and hard work are said to have a growth intelligence (growth mindset). In practice, the inner workings of both mindsets can be evidenced by an individual's behaviour. Those of a fixed mindset dread failure as they fear it is a negative statement on their own inherent basic core abilities.

Those with a growth mindset do not fear failure to the same extent as they realise that their performance can always be improved, and that failure is a fundamental necessity of trial and error, leading to success. Of course, given these two scenarios then it is no surprise that those with a growth mindset tend to attain a higher level of educational standard. Leading to more successful lives with higher achievement, better pay, living standards, health, wellbeing and happiness, when compared to those who exhibit a fixed mindset. Perhaps because where others see barriers and difficulty, rationalised and reinforced by excuses and self justifying thoughts, the optimistic side of a growth mindset sees opportunity for growth and refinement in equivalent situations.

Turf management is being carried along the crest of a wave of change; from revocations of active substances, extreme weather patterns, technological innovation, participation pressure and a greater sociopolitical awareness of environmental issues.

What is your mindset to change and what is your plan to meet the challenges arising from it?

Article by James Grundy, Agrovista Amenity Senior Technical Manager

This article is written as a companion to Maintaining Sportsturf Surfaces - What's Your Intention? Pitchcare Magazine, Issue 85 - June/July 2019.

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