Arrival & Exploration

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The 1st day of exploring the UK was absolutely superb all around.  Superb and eye opening observations.  Superb and in-depth discussions.  Superb weather and travel conditions.  Many, many, many thanks to the man I consider the UK/ USA grass field ambassador…. Mr. Simon Gumbrill.  Simon single-handedly is bring 2 very different worlds of groundsmanship together.  As always,  his hospitality, graciousness, and ideas are 1st rate.  Thank you to him for taking the time to take me around the country!

One of the exploration and idea collection points of this trip focuses around stability and reinforcement of rootzones for heavy use.  The UK climate brings large amounts of rain and cold winters, yet most high level stadiums/ field in the UK never fight divoting and sand stability issues like American fields.  Why??

Mr. Anthony Stones of Wembley Stadium, and Mr. Paul Ashcroft of Emirates Stadium (At Wembley)

Mr. Anthony Stones of Wembley Stadium, and Mr. Paul Ashcroft of Emirates Stadium (At Wembley)

With that in mind, our 1st stop on Monday was Wembley Stadium.  Wembley hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers & Minnesota Vikings Sunday night,  just 12 hours prior to our visit. Many, many thanks to Mr. Anthony Stones and his staff for hosting us the morning after such an event.  Absolutely 1st class to take the time to see us, talk with us, and to be so open with us.

And the Wembley pitch was fantastic as well.  Reinforced w/ Desso, American football had barely nicked the field.  But the NFL game is only part of the story.  Wembley had perviously hosted Roger Waters  “The Wall” concert 2 weeks prior on Sat. Sept. 14.  (Yes, the same “The Wall” concert that toured the US last summer, decimating stadium fields across the country and leading to hundreds of thousands of square feet of sod replacement).  Yet even with it 2 weeks before an NFL game, Wembley sodded 0 sq ft following the concert.

Even more remarkable is that the field had sustained multiple rugby and soccer matches prior to the NFL and concert following a seeding renovation to repair the field from a month of concerts in June.  Absolutely amazing!!  More to come on HOW this was possible in upcoming days…..

Mr. Steve Braddock at Arsenal's Training Ground

Mr. Steve Braddock at Arsenal’s Training Ground

Our 2nd stop of Monday was at Arsenal’s Shenley Training Ground to see Mr. Steve Braddock.  Mr. Braddock is truly an artist, as the pitches were as strong as ever. Thank you to Steve for taking the time to talk about so many topics and to trade so many different possibilities.  With over 10 fields, the training ground is a large facility… but that doesn’t keep Steve and his strong staff from producing amazing results. More to come on observations… in particular from seeing 5 more Desso sewed fields.

Water Across the Perfect Emirates Stadium Pitch Before Training

Water Across the Perfect Emirates Stadium Pitch Before Training

Lastly on Monday, Mr. Paul Ashcroft allowed us to pay him a visit at Emirates Stadium late in the evening to see his masterpiece known as the Emirates Stadium pitch.  With Napoli FC training for their Champions League match against Arsenal, their work during a fast paced training session on the Desso pitch highlighted some of the strong points Mr. Ashcroft was kind enough to share with us.  Thank You to him for taking the time to see us, even being busy!

In observing 12 immaculate fields on my 1st day, even following American football/ nearly 2 months into season training/ immediately follow a hard working training session, I quickly was reminded again how different our thinking and quality is in the USA is compared to the top facilities in the UK.  With all the fields being high traffic,  7 of the 12 fields reinforced with Desso, and none ever getting sod work…..  the number of additional questions for me to get answered grows.  Much, much more on the amazing things seen are to come!

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ESSMA & European Exploration: The #Revolution is Growing!

With the arrival of fall there are so many fantastic fields around the world being showcased on television and on social media.  Kudos to each and every hard-working Grounds Manager out there who is setting the example that grass CAN take more traffic!  The grass field #revolution is growing!

In the search of new ideas and different perspectives, Saturday I set off on a new trip to Europe to observe and learn from some fantastic Grounds Managers.  Managers across the big pond are currently maintaining fields under heavy use and preparing for winter play as well.  Observations and conversations start in the UK, advance through Spain, and end in Porto, Portugal on Oct. 11.

In Portugal I will have the privilege to present the keynote address for the ESSMA Head Grounds Managers Seminar at FC Porto. The keynote revolves  around the components of the natural grass field #revolution and the possibilities of high traffic natural grass that each of you that read and share around this blog are individually creating every day.  Kudos to all of you! Evolution is changing the answer.  Revolution is changing the question!!

What an honor to be able to take part in the event while representing our fantastic, positive minded team at Maryland SoccerPlex.  SoccerPlex becomes the 1st American member of ESSMA as part of the event, something we are very, very proud of as well.

ESSMA, the European Stadium & Safety Management Association,  in close cooperation with its field management partners CampeyImants, EVERRIS, DESSO GrassMaster, SGL and TERRAPLAS is presenting its second Head Grounds Managers Seminar .  The seminar focuses on the established field management cases of ESSMA, grounds managers sharing their concepts and practical visit to the stadium field and training centre at FC Porto.  The 2012 event was held at FC Barcelona.

On the education program are Jonathan Calderwood (Paris Saint-Germain), Ricardo Carvalho (FC Porto); Lee Jackson (Manchester City); Sebastian Breuing (VfL Bochum; Bochum, Germany); and Maxim Kobzin (Donbass Arena; Donetsk, Ukraine).   There is no doubt that the exchange of ideas and possibilities created at the event will be many!

And ultimately, that is the key to the #revolution.  The continual exchange of ideas between managers around the world builds innovation by promoting outside the box thinking to meet the demands and needs of natural grass fields.  We have questions and we have answers.  Our peers have questions and answers.  They have answers to other questions that we might not even realize we need to ask!!

Keep up with and engage in the exchange during the trip here…  The possibilities are endless, but your feedback is required!  To have notice of updates, click the FOLLOW up in the top left corner of this post… or follow me on twitter at @JeradRMinnick

Best wishes to a successful end of the week… and CHEERS to the continuing spread of the #revolution!

Poking Holes into Old Thoughts on Core Aeration

Following “Cultivated Thoughts on Thatch Management” and the results of core verifying our cool season turfgrass fields the week before a stretch of 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), I have spent more time examining the merits of core aeration.  Certainly we as professional managers know the importance of core aeration.  But with time constraints and all the other aeration options available to use today, coring is a bit less used.  After the last few weeks, I am convinced that it is time to buck that trend and get back to the basics of core aeration.

Why do we core aerate?  No- its not just to create overtime for ourselves and our work crews!  Removing the column of soil from the profile makes a direct, open avenue for gas exchange in the soil.  Water is able to infiltrate the profile easier, as well as the removal of thatch/ organic material/ soil that could be undesirable.  Certainly solid tines open columns similarly, but they do so at the expense of compacting the soil around the column.  Now-  do not mis-understand me-  ANY type of aeration/ venting that can be done at ANY time is essential to turfgrass survival,  especially in high traffic field situations.  But pulling cores is the most beneficial of all for gas exchange, thatch removal, and water infiltration into the top of the profile (deep tine aeration is a separate subject for deep water infiltration)

Basic teaching advocates core aeration 2 times a year.  I have spent most of my career buying into that thinking, especially because of the intensity of the process.  By now I am realizing that the benefits from core aeration are sometimes lost in the mess that is created from the aeration process.  By the time the clean up process ends, we find ourselves swearing that we will never do it again.  Last week alone we dulled a set of reels following clean up, then bent 2 reels from debris dropped during the coring and sweeping process.  If I walked into the office this morning and declared we are core aerating again this week, there would be mutiny!

But… outside on the fields… the results are evident from the flush of fresh air into the root zone and proper water infiltration.  Green, strong, healthy turf looks like it was 50 degrees last night- even though we spent the week in extreme heat.

Ironically as I was writing this, my colleague Mr. John Turnour made a similar comments about his aggressive core aeration program at Nationals Park in DC.  He too feels that the results are as dramatic as I do with the flush of air into the root zone bringing an immediate plant response with green, vibrant growth and health.  From a scientific standpoint, I am sure there is more to the response than just the air component- Nutrient availability especially.  I will research this and let you know… I am intrigued to know myself.

In conclusion, the question becomes… how often does it need to be done?  My new goal becomes 1 time a month in the growing season, skipping August unless it catches a cool stretch.  So a total 6-8 times.  That will total a removal of about 40% of the profile (@ 5% per time).  We are at 2 with us to July, so hopefully we can finish at 6.

4 more times-  oh boy- Don’t tell our work crews!!!

Cultivated Thoughts on Thatch Management

The past 10 days have seen an up and down weather pattern in the Mid-Atlantic-  A few cool, crisp days followed with hot, dry then hot, humid days.  Dry conditions have prevailed until today, allowing some aggressive cultivation to take place in conjunction with the wrap up of soccer league season and in preparation for summer club lacrosse season.

On cool season pitches, aeration pass number 6 took place with deep tine aeration at 8″ w/ an aggressive 15 degree kick, followed with pass number 7 w/ 3/4″ coring tines on 2×2 spacing.  With the combination, deep compaction relief took place along with air venting and thatch reduction in the top organic layer… both much needed following the heavy traffic of May and entering the summer stress period.  All aeration techniques will continue, just not as aggressively though into the heat….

Bermudagrass received an aggressive core aeration as well.  With it picking up growth… and starting into camp season next week, this is the last break during the week bermudagrass will see until the last week of August.  Deep tine aeration will follow suit next week in the evenings following camps

In reference to thatch reduction from core aeration, following the 1st sweeping of cores from the field we brushed the fields with a heavy brush to stand the grass plants back upright and fluff up any remaining cores.  Around Europe, brushing was common.. so I wanted to add it to our program immediately.  I assumed that the main benefit would be standing up the grass for better health and mowing.  Well I was right on that part, but the biggest immediate difference was the remaining thatch on the very top of the field that was fluffed up.  It was staggering!!  Piles of thatch were everywhere.  Certainly we expect to bring up some, but had no idea that it would be the amount it was.  Especially in a lighter growing period under growth regulation, following heavy traffic, and when we have mowed very little as we raise the height up a 1/4″ to 1 1/4″  If that amount comes up during light growth, I can only imagine the amount that will arise during aggressive growth.

As mentioned, brushing was a common practice around pitches in Europe, as it is in golf course management.  But in sports field management, its not something that takes place a lot.  After the observations of our 1st experience with it… it will become a weekly practice followed with mowing with baskets for collection.  I immediately am looking into tine harrows for additional fluffing and am sharpening the verticut blades as well…  We think our program is aggressive enough- but yet again we are wrong!

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Open Minded

Having an open mind is important when it comes to evolution of a turfgrass maintenance program.  The European market is full of technologies that stem from open minds that are always improve the quality of the pitches.  The following ideas are things that I viewed:

Desso Grassmaster: A reinforcement system with synthetic fibers sewed into the sand profile of a natural grass field.  A few fields in the US use the technology, but it has not caught on because the fibers make it impossible to sod into, so seeding is required for renovations.

Fiber sand:  A reinforcement system with synthetic fibers mixed into the sand profile to reduce compaction potential and provide stability in sand.  Our stadium pitch at SoccerPlex has fiber sand and we have fantastic results.  Again, this is not a system that is common in the US.  But the potential for it is big.  The success stories are endless with using the product and managing it correctly.

Crumb rubber on sand for cushion:  Many facilities use crumb rubber topdressing to attempt to soften the goal mouths and goal keeping practice areas.  I have considered crumb rubber for the same, but also to help to reduce compaction and to add heat to bermudagrass fields more quickly in the spring.  Mixed results are being found with crumb rubber… so the jury is still out.

Fescue into ryegrass: Turf type tall fescue genetics have created a superior plant that is able to be used in a ryegrass and/or bluegrass stand.  Some of the fescues that I observed are absolutely fantastic, especially blended with ryes for more wear tolerance.  With that, we used fescue to overseed our bermudagrass last fall/ this spring, and it is by far the most durable overseeding we have ever had

Performance testing:  During several visits, testing officials from the Sports Turf Research Institute were on site doing performance testing of the turfgrass stand. Infiltration rates, compaction/ hardness testing, ball speed, tinsel strength, root depths, etc, etc.  I know of a few tests that we have done/ can be done in the US, but I know of no one testing religiously to give an established baseline of conditions during the season.  It is a perfect way, in conjunction with tissue and soil testing, to know how well changes in a maintenance program work!

These, and many other open minded ideas, were common place in discussions and maintenance programs around Europe.  Other technologies like SubAir, glycol heating, and most importantly- grow lights- make growing turfgrass in challenging conditions more successful.  Combine those ideas with the aggressive nature of the complete renovation each year-  It would see that here in the US we are lagging behind on creating new create, open minded ideas.  With that, do we have things to learn from our European counterparts?  I say YES.  All the possibilities make the sky the limit!

Self Sufficient and Efficient

Thank you to everyone who has been engaging me in thought-provoking discussion over each of the points of focus from my European trip.  So many good ideas continue to flow…  and already they are making a difference in our maintenance program here at SoccerPlex.

The 3rd point to discuss is the manner in which several of the European sports field operations run so self-sufficiently and how they are highly efficient in all of their tasks.  With training grounds similar to the size of the 22-field Maryland SoccerPlex, several of the operations that I observed are similar to ours.  However, ultimately, their operations run very differently.

Many of the major maintenance and renovation techniques that take place in Europe are done in-house by field maintenance crews.  Specialized contractors are still involved, but many operations have their own equipment to do the tasks on their own as well.

The European operations are more self-sufficient partially because they are so efficient as well though.  Tractors in the 100 hp range are not uncommon.  A 63″ aerator (our biggest)  is small by Euro standards.  From a man power stand point, they are able to get many more tasks completed with fewer people because fewer hours are spent in operation of equipment.  The extra time equates into the ability to accomplish more tasks “in-house”.  It seems so simple, but yet it seems so ingenious!  Especially with the security of completing tasks such as aeration more quickly- 1 aeration cycle takes up to 2 week for our SoccerPlex crews to finish.  Staggered staffing and overtime make up the time to finish each cycle because 2 weeks un-interrupted by weather or play does not exist.  Increased efficiency reduces those challenges.

This discussion ultimately connects us back to my previous post on confidence and aggressiveness.  Taking on such tasks such as renovation in-house is a large undertaking!  As is the operation of larger equipment.  But in the end, it establishes a maintenance program that is absolutely always on “offense”!

 

Confidence and Aggressiveness

It’s a common theme in American sports- “Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships”.

But is that really true?   The 2000 St. Louis Ram (the Greatest Show On Turf).  The 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  And even the 1992 “Dream Team”.  I tend to agree more with Bobby Knight when he told Dan Quayle “There is nothing that a good defense cannot beat a better offense”.  Sure, defense is great.. until you meet a better offense.

Now that you are thinking “offensively”…  you are now in the mind-set that I am in after visiting with so many fantastic European groundsmen.  There is such a confidence, assurance, and matter of fact approach to management.  There is no fear. Or if there is, they certainly do not show it!  To strip off a field and re-seed instead of sod seems like insanity to us; its common place for them.  Here playing tennis on grass seems impossible;  They do it all the time.  Here roofs on grass stadiums are few and far between; There every stadium there has a roof.  Here extra events on a field causes stress; they welcome it as an opportunity to try something new.  They seem to always be on the offensive, working towards the next goal.  Never slowing down. Never complaining.  Never doubting.

Before my trip, I felt my management philosophy for turfgrass was agressive and simple:  The grass has 2 choices- 1) Grow 2) Die.  After visiting Europe and getting an outside perspective , I realize its is not as simple as I thought.  Many decisions are from a “defensive” or conservative stand point.  These decisions are still GOOD decisions. But they are made from a “what if” perspective with anxiety, uneasiness, hesitation, and even lack of confidence play into the decision-making process. The process is complex.  It’s “Defensive”.

So thinking with confidence, defined by Merriam-Webster as: belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: and in a positive frame of mind.. “Offensively”.. decision-making becomes less complex.  These GOOD decisions then become GREAT decisions!  GOOD fields become GREAT fields.  Mother Nature provides challenge, but the strong turf can overcome.  We sleep better at night with less stress!

A shining example of great decisions, Steve Jobs, described it perfectly:  “That’s been one of my mantrasfocus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

I don’t know about you, but an offense to move the mountains of challenge sounds fantastic to me!