A pitch grading framework to benchmark the quality of every playing surface in the UK – complemented by an education framework to help those responsible to continually improve standards – is being called for by the Grounds Management Association (GMA).
The introduction of a multi-layer grading system should begin at grassroots level and extend through to the world-class surfaces at venues such as Wimbledon, Twickenham, Lord’s and at Premier League clubs, according to GMA chief executive Geoff Webb.
Goeff says: “Each level will be complemented by a training and education framework that will comprise specific and ‘accurately blended’ modules (which can be delivered both online and in traditional format) to suit the needs of each site at each level of ‘standard’, as well as being perfectly matched to the needs of the person/people charged with maintaining those pitches.”
The GMA believes that such a framework will bring much needed clarity to what constitutes good management and standard of provision.
An industry group has initially met at St. George’s Park to discuss the way forward. The group – including professional groundsmen and a representative group of leading agronomist practitioners, as well as GMA representatives including Martin Ford, who has been heavily involved in developing the GMA’s Performance Quality Standards for cricket – is now looking at current practices and the variations in standards at both professional and voluntary/amateur level sport.
The group’s aim will be to establish a framework that is universally suitable for all levels of sport.
Geoff says: “There is no statutory provision for natural playing surfaces, but a pitch grading framework, based on exisitng perfomrance quality standards, updated for today's market,will for the first time enable the industry to establish industry-wide benchmarks and appropriate standards of provision.
“The complementary training framework will create a link that starts with the grassroots volunteer and transcends up to professional level, providing a tangible path of development for those who want to progress a career in sports turf management.
“The GMA has continued to develop and expand our training and education offering but we recognise there can be no ‘one size fits all’ structure; the needs of individual sports fields and their grounds teams vary widely. So, it makes complete sense to tailor training and education to suit the level and nature of the facility, and the available resources both in terms of expertise and equipment.”
This training and education framework will embrace the volunteer grassroots level with the ‘level one’ qualification of GMA Certified Grounds Assistant. The GMA-led accreditations will extend upwards through the levels and qualifications finally to GMA Certified Grounds Director level.
The GMA recommendations will build on the successful GMA-led Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme where £1.3 million has been jointly invested by the England & Wales Cricket Board, The Football Association, the Rugby Football League and Sport England into improving the quality and maintenance of playing surfaces, beginning at grassroots level.
“The pitch grading framework linked with a mirror-image approach to graded levels of educational attainment will greatly assist the move to drive standards forwards,” claims Geoff Webb.
“Creating a true framework for natural turf will also create the opportunity to change the culture of thinking away from simply writing-off the asset of natural turf, and creating a mindset about what can be achieved with natural turf with the correct inputs and guidance.
“We’re helping to put the skills back into public spaces, because the message of ‘don’t write off an asset that is waiting for use’ will see the Programme successfully halt the cycle of poor maintenance that has in recent times plagued our public playing fields.
“The aim, especially at grassroots level, is to show that planned turf maintenance can generate at least ‘one more game per pitch’ by increasing its carrying capacity,” says Geoff Webb.
 Designed to take the industry forward into 2021, the GMA’s new five-year strategy is focused on helping sports clubs achieve ‘quality surfaces through excellence in grounds management’ and is underpinned by embracing new trends and developments to develop and train skilled groundsmen – whatever the playing surface.
“This will be achieved not only by representing, inspiring and supporting grounds management volunteers and professionals alike, but also by the GMA’s continued progress in promoting best practice and our continued quest to influence policy.”
The strategy has other clear objectives designed to carry the GMA – and the industry – forward, including:
 Providing excellent member networks and benefits
 Increasing the GMA’s voice and influence
 Building on policy and technical work
 Expanding the GMA’s learning and development capabilities.
In addition, the GMA will further engage with volunteers as well as have a clear focus on helping to develop those in paid positions, and it will continue its lead in areas of relevant research.