The Job and What's Involved

Football PitchGround staff maintain a range of sports surfaces such as football, cricket and rugby pitches, tennis courts and bowling greens.

Their key role is to ensure that the playing surface is in as good a condition as possible. It may be made of natural turf, synthetic turf or a combination of both.

Daily tasks vary according to the time of year and the type of surface being prepared, but they may include:

  • Clearing debris, rolling the ground and removing weeds.
  • Accurately marking out the playing areas using special paint or tape.
  • Constructing and putting up equipment like nets and posts.
  • Caring for surrounding areas, such as flower beds or areas of concrete and tarmac.
  • Operating light and heavy equipment such as rotavators, sprinklers and shredders.
  • Driving tractors which tow a variety of machines, including mowers, sprayers and spiked rollers.
  • Some basic mechanical maintenance.
  • Using hand tools such as rakes and spades.
  • Applying fertilisers, weed killers and pesticides.
  • Watering.
  • Installing and removing weatherproof covers.

Sometimes groundspeople may construct a new surface from scratch, which involves reading drawings, preparing the land and making sure there is enough water and good enough drainage.

They may also need to answer queries from members of the public and deal with outside contractors - they place orders and take responsibility for deliveries of products such as top dressings and fertiliser.

Some ground staff work as self-employed contractors and some specialise in particular areas of the work, such as football ground maintenance.

Ground staff usually work 37 to 40 hours a week. However, actual working hours depend on the time of year, where they work and any special events the sports pitch or court will be used for.

The hours can be unsociable and involve evenings and weekends, especially when working for a professional sports clubs, which may play matches under floodlights.

Ground staff spend most of their time working outside in all weather conditions. The work involves a lot of walking, lifting and bending, and they will often have to wear waterproof and protective clothing. In some jobs, a groundsperson may need to travel around one large site, or to divide their time between several sites.

The job may not suit those with hay fever or an allergy to chemicals such as weed killers.

A driving licence is useful.

The starting salary for a trainee may be around £10,000 to £11,000 a year. There may be extra payments for overtime and working unsociable hours, and accommodation is sometimes provided.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Including volunteers, the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) has estimated that there are as many as 100,000 ground staff in the UK.

In recent years the promotion of the link between playing sport and good health has meant more leisure facilities and more opportunities for ground staff, particularly those with the right qualifications.

Ground staff are employed by organisations that manage playing fields and other leisure facilities. These include local authorities - which maintain over 50 per cent of all sports surfaces in the UK - sports clubs, landscape contractors, schools and colleges, and golf clubs.

Jobs are available throughout the country, with the most opportunities in more heavily populated areas.

Summer jobs and work experience are useful as they show an understanding of the techniques and the equipment needed to do the job. Seasonal jobs may also be available for unskilled trainees.

It is useful for ground staff working in a particular sport to have a good knowledge of that particular game.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, on the IOG's website, and in magazines such as The Groundsman and Horticulture Week.

Education and Training

Although ground staff do not need formal qualifications, it can be helpful to have some - especially for progression to supervisory or managerial roles.

There is a huge range of full-time, part-time and day-release courses available at agricultural colleges across the UK.

The IOG runs a number of qualifications including:

National Practical Certificate - an initial training scheme for unskilled ground staff, involving tasks in soil cultivation, turf establishment, maintaining and stopping a small engine, renovation and mowing.

Level 2 National Certificate in Sports and Amenity Turf Maintenance - a new flexible qualification that allows candidates to plan their own study programme and work at their own speed.

National Technical Certificate - based on the NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture and available on either a full-time or day-release basis.

Other qualifications include:

  • NVQ's/SVQ's in Amenity Horticulture (Sports Turf) at Levels 2 and 3, and NVQ's/SVQ's in Amenity Horticulture Management at Level 4.
  • BTEC National Certificates and Diplomas in Horticulture (Sports Turf).

Higher-level courses include Foundation degrees in sports turf and golf course management, and degrees in sports turf science and management and other related subjects. For a degree course, students need at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications.

Postgraduate qualifications are also available, usually for people with a first degree.

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Training is often on the job, and most trainees work alongside experienced colleagues for three to four years. They start with routine tasks before moving on to the more complex procedures.

Ground staff can work towards qualifications by attending college on day or block release. Specialist courses are also available in areas such as using a chainsaw and applying chemicals.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A groundsperson needs to:

  • Be practical and methodical.
  • Understand the nature of different kinds of turf and synthetic surfaces, including soil types and drainage.
  • Be patient and pay attention to detail.
  • Be fit enough to use heavy equipment.
  • Be environmentally aware.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.
  • Be hard-working and committed.
  • Be able to use hand tools.
  • Have basic numerical skills to work out how much pesticide, seed and top dressing to use.
  • Work well alone and as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects often depend on the size of the employer. Ground staff working for larger organisations, such as local authorities and some sports clubs, may be able to move up to the role of supervisor or team leader, and then head groundsman and a management position.

Those working in smaller organisations may need to move to a different company to gain further experience and promotion.

Promotion also depends on achieving higher-level qualifications.

The IOG offers a range of courses for people who want to continue their professional development or specialise in particular areas of the work.

Some ground staff move into leisure management or estate management. Others set up their own grounds maintenance companies or work for consultants. Those with the right academic qualifications might be able to do research work.

There are also opportunities to become self-employed and to work overseas.

Get Further Information

The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association,
BIGGA House, Aldwark, Alne, York YO61 1UF
Tel: 01347 833800

Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG),
28 Stratford Office Village, Walker Avenue,
Wolverton Mill East, Milton Keynes MK12 5TW
Tel: 01908 312511

ISPAL, Grotto House, Lower Basildon,
Reading RG8 9NE
Tel: 0845 603 8734

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
Near Coventry CV8 2LG
Tel: 0845 707 8007

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