Doing more with less is more than a catchy phrase; it’s a realistic assessment of what many sports field managers face in their field management programs. Maybe more athletic fields have been added to a facility without increasing the budget or labor resources, or additional sports and athletes are using those existing fields. While it’s important to analyze why the situation is occurring and determine what long-term steps may be needed to rectify it, the most pressing problem is doing more with your existing resources.

Complexes with multiple fields, like this soccer complex, can benefit from volunteer assistance in many areas. Trash pickup and policing inappropriate usage by those attending practices and play require no special training.
The view across a baseball field used for youth play shows several areas where a supervised volunteer workday would help, such as treating the lip along the infield edge, mowing and reworking the infield skinned material.

Pinpoint the problems

The first step in solving a problem is clearly defining what the problem is. Review your overall program for the past two to five years and track the changes that have been made.

Start with the basics of how many fields you had to maintain the first year and when new fields were added (if there have been new fields). Note the number of fields by type: native soil, amended native soil, sand-based and synthetic. For each year, list the sports played on your fields, the number of teams participating in each sport and the number of athletes on the roster of each team. List the starting and ending date for practices and the number and dates of all games that were held on the fields. Note the practices or other on-field activities of regular field user groups, such as the marching band, drum and bugle corps, cheerleaders or dance team. Now, add in the types and dates of any special events held on the fields, along with the dates and time required for pre-event set up and post-event tear down.

(If you’ve been maintaining detailed records over this period, you’ll have the information readily available. If you haven’t been recording this data, this program review should show you the benefits of doing so.)

This comparison should give you a clear overview of the scope of field use, and when that use occurs. Now, compare your equipment lineup, your budget figures and your staffing levels over the same period. Does this pinpoint the problems? This information is the basis for your budget development for the next year and the support data you’ll want to share to justify those budget requests.

Stretching existing resources

Review the field use schedule for the current year along with your field management program as originally outlined when you were developing your budget. Determine where changes were made and why. Did you need to prioritize field maintenance due to shortages of equipment, materials or labor? Did you make a change in equipment type with a recent purchase, going from a reel mower to a rotary mower, or from a single deck mower to a triplex?

These changes are all methods of stretching resources. The key to making this work well is analyzing the results and determining which methods were the most effective at the reductions you wanted to achieve—and how field quality, playability and aesthetics were affected by them.

Consider areas in which you can adopt further efficiencies without negatively impacting field quality. For example, look at how you allocate staff time. When you have multiple two or three-person teams that travel to field sites to perform similar maintenance procedures, meet with them as a group to share ideas and develop procedures to get the job done in the fastest and most effective way. Look at the start of day and end of day routines for ways to make this organizational time more efficient.

Funding special needs

Look beyond the budget for innovative ways to fund special needs. Discuss potential ideas with facility administrators or owners to make sure every fundraising activity complies with all the rules and regulations before launching a project.

Consider selling advertising signs to be posted on the outfield fence of baseball and softball fields. It gives companies that support the team an opportunity to get their name in front of the fans. Check with suppliers about arranging donations of materials or loans of equipment in exchange for on-field advertising signs or ads in printed programs. Consider approaching landscape contractors about similar arrangements in exchange for fieldwork such as aerification, fertilization, topdressing or pest control applications.

Determine your project before you approach any group to ask for their support. It’s much easier to generate interest with a clearly defined goal.

Recruit booster clubs or team parents to organize fundraisers designated for specific items. For the first project, select something that they will be able to see in action once the purchase is made, such as a mower, utility vehicle or field rake. Explain why it is needed and what it will accomplish in terms of field care. Once they’re sold on the idea, they’ll develop the methods of raising funds that fit their group’s talents and that work best in your community. Supply the details they’ll need to develop any handout materials or posters and provide any other behind the scenes support that they request. Acknowledge their support with signage, ads in printed programs and, when possible, a sign on the piece of equipment itself.

If booster clubs or team parents already have an ongoing fundraising activity, such as operating the concession stand at stadium fields or multiple field complexes, find out how field maintenance needs might be included. It’s often as easy as asking. The workers in this type of group spend many hours at the field, so the projects you ask for their help on can be less visible, but still need to be specific. An inground irrigation system is one example.

The route for this middle school cross-country meet covers the outskirts of the school grounds. If the school’s insurance allows it, consider recruiting parent volunteers to walk the route immediately before the event to pick up any debris.

Working with volunteers

Determine what tasks or projects volunteers could handle. Consider having crews keep track of their time for a week, noting how much time is spent on each task to get an idea of the time commitment that might be needed. As you define their roles, remember that volunteers need some form of positive feedback on their work as the motivation to continue doing it. Think of it as their paycheck, to help keep it in perspective.

For fields used by youth leagues, work with the scheduling coordinator to approach the team coaches to ask for help. For school fields, work with the coaches to meet with the parent group or booster club. The presenter should be articulate and enthusiastic—and have sign up sheets on hand.

Decide whether you’ll want help for a specific project on a predetermined date, ongoing assistance with a designated task or both. For example, you might set up a daylong cleanup and preparation project in the spring with workstations spread across the field and surrounding facility. Tasks might include trash pickup; raking; mowing; adding materials to the warning track or skinned area of the infield; preparing and planting flowerbeds and planters; and trimming trees and shrubs. The reward could be as simple as designing and providing special “field crew” tee shirts. Take before and after photos of any special projects, and share them with the volunteers, so they can see what their work accomplished.

Consider what tasks could be handled with ongoing volunteer assistance, what skill levels might be required and how the activity could be rewarded. Trash pickup is always an issue and could be tackled by anyone in almost any age group. The challenge is finding the appropriate reward. Along with T-shirts or sweatshirts, consider adding a little competition to the task, with varsity and junior varsity parents vying to see which picks up the most trash by volume after each game.

Event-related volunteer work might include walking the cross-country running course prior to a meet to pick up trash and remove any other potential problems, such as fallen branches. Volunteers might help set up the finish chute or flag parts of the route. Volunteers on park system baseball and softball fields could help with the field setup, putting out bases or preparing the skinned areas of the infield. Football or soccer volunteers could help with the post-game divot walk.

Consider recruiting volunteers to help with crowd control at fields where the spectators line up along the sidelines to watch practices and games. The volunteers taking on this task could wear a bright colored vest marked with a designated title, to help establish their authority to correct those breaking the rules.

When you think about doing more with less as a temporary challenge that you can overcome, it becomes easier to pull everything together to make that more happen.