Hitting life’s curveballs

Features - Turfheads Take Over

Buffalo Bisons head groundskeeper Kelly Rensel reflects on a year filled with change — and relays how you can channel change in your own life into a superpower.

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December 10, 2021

© kelLY rensel

Change is never fun. Change is never easy. But change is necessary.

Change can only make us better and challenge us to grow. Whether we are prepared for the change because we wanted it or it completely blindsided us with a pink slip, having a plan for change can make it easier. Change can also reset our focus and get a fresh perspective on what we are working toward. The age-old question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” might be a tired saying but it can help you navigate the planning process if and/or when change does occur. It can jump-start the planning process before it even happens.

When devising your plan after change occurs, setting goals can help you stay on task and stay motivated. Making smaller goals and keeping them attainable will help focus on completing the bigger goals over time. Completing short-term goals should advance you toward your long-term goals.

Over the last 14 years, major change was an almost-every-other-year occurrence for me. After my first year as an intern with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2008, I realized what I wanted to do: drag an infield and make grass as green as possible. After that season, I started to immerse myself and study as much as I could about turfgrass management. (And, for the record, I majored in sport administration.) Quickly realizing there is more than one type of turfgrass, my plan was to change where I worked … and change as often as possible. Acquiring experience in this industry is very hands-on driven and it takes a ton of time to learn the craft, so moving around the country experiencing different grass types in different climates was one of my goals.

Moving from state to state and job to job, I would set new goals and have a “good look in the mirror” about how each new position could change me for better or worse. How is this new opportunity making me better? What areas do I need to improve on? How is this advancing my growth as a leader? When I get to the next opportunity, where will I be in five years? Those were some of the questions I would ask myself when moving on to the next job.

The unplanned change is impossible to set goals for and be prepared for. Usually, it comes as a gut punch — a pink slip or a furlough. Like many sports turf managers in 2020, I was furloughed. It was tough to not have a bit of a chip on my shoulder and get upset. I had to take that negative energy and channel it toward something productive. Thankfully, the Sports Turf Managers Association opened some online education webinars through their vendors and partners. Taking time to re-educate myself through those educational resources helped me deal with the change.

Change is always tough. Staying calm, staying cool and staying organized can help. Setting goals for the now and for the future can get you where you want to go. Setting goals also helps elevate the stress of change and puts the focus on improvement. Try to find the good if the change is negative and use that time for improvement.

Change always brings new challenges. I hope the goals you set and the plan you build can help make the progress toward completing those goals attainable.

Kelly Rensel, CSFM, is the head groundskeeper for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. This is his first Golf Course Industry contribution.