With 25 years’ experience spanning greenkeeping to grounds care, and lecturing to consultancy, one thing has remained constant for David Rhodes of Traction Sports – a belief that education and continuing professional development is a must for everyone
What were your early career aspirations?
My dad was a self-employed electrician who worked far too hard - so that didn’t appeal! At 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do, which is how I ended up in this industry - and I think that remains the route for many today. I took a job as a greenkeeper and enjoyed it, and at age 17 started part-time study at Myserscough going from the NPC to a City & Guilds phase 1 qualification.
When I was 18, I took a job as Groundsman at Bolton School then, at 22, took the position of Head Groundsman at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club where I looked after 31 courts. I believe that education should develop hand in hand with your career, so while working part-time towards my City & Guilds qualification I also studied evenings and weekends for my IOG NDT at Reaseheath.
What were your strong subjects at school?
Science, maths and sport. We did some gardening as part of our science curriculum when I was 14 and that was probably my first experience of horticulture. I enjoyed it so for me I didn’t view horticulture as a last choice career.
What did you study at University?
I applied for a BSc in Sports Turf at Myerscough, but when interviewed was offered a job as a lecturer! So, I took up a part-time position working under Martyn Jones and continued part-time at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club. I also did an HND while at the college, but then you needed to do the fourth year as a full-time student to receive Honours so I couldn’t complete that. I then moved to a full-time position with Merrist Wood as the Head of Turf, where I was for five years, during which time I completed a Masters in Plant Sciences at Reading University.
What has been your best lesson learnt?
Accept that nobody knows everything and have an open mind.
What did you do after graduating?
I moved to Dorset and started trading as a full-time sports turf construction consultant. Originally, I traded as Rhodes Consulting but on the advice of my 13-year-old son that was ‘too boring’ so I re-branded in January this year to Traction Sports. It’s also more relevant to the business as ‘traction’ has a meaning in engineering, sport and sport science.
What are your career highlights?
Even though it was at the beginning of my career, winning the IOG Young Groundsman of the Year award in 1988 is still the high point and has been a catalyst for so much that has followed.
What have been the significant challenges you have faced?
Every day of your life running your own business is a challenge, particularly in the current climate.
How has the industry changed over the years?
I’m not really sure it has. It is tempting to say it’s got more professional but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case and I think we’re in a stage of transition. Some of the youngsters coming through are aware of the need for training but it’s also the type of industry where you can get away with never doing a day’s training, then we are faced with unqualified grounds staff who have neither the inclination nor the ability to do a good job and this creates an undercurrent of disrespect for the industry. I think some fundamental issues still need to be addressed.
What are its good point and bad points?
It’s an all-embracing, welcoming industry full of a lot of good people. The downside is that we don’t get the respect and reward we deserve. We also lack unity and we need a stronger voice with co-operation between organisations.
If you could be in any other industry, what would it be?
Genetics or bio-chemistry. I am fascinated by science.
What have been your best and worst decisions?
The best was deciding to be self-employed. The worst decisions have probably been as a result of me being overly critical and not analysing my decisions enough - so I have learnt to temper my enthusiasm with a reality check.
What’s the best advice you’ve given and received?
The best advice I can give to young, enthusiastic turf managers is to keep studying and keep an open mind. The best advice received is probably something from Martyn Jones – he was always so enthusiastic by demonstration.
What are your best and worst traits?
I am enthusiastic, but not very patient.
What characteristics do you like most and least in a person?
I most like understanding, competence and a sense of balance and I least like aggression and lack of understanding of a subject or topic.
What does the future hold for you and Traction Sports?
I hope to continue growing the business and to continue enjoying my work.