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New SFMA CEO shares industry challenges, opportunities and goals

January 18, 2023  - By

Laura Simmons joined the Sports Field Managers Association in December as the organization’s new CEO. Simmons comes to SFMA with a wealth of association management knowledge, and she hopes to bring the organization into the future by growing its membership and raising the professionalism of the organization.

Laura Simmons (Photo: SFMA)

Laura Simmons (Photo: SFMA)

On the heels of the announcement, Simmons sat down with Athletic Turf News to talk about her experience and what she hopes to bring to the role.

Athletic Turf News: What drew you to the sports field management industry?

Laura Simmons: I’ve been in association management for more than two decades. I really enjoy working with members and helping them reach their goals and growth potential. What really drew me to SFMA was that they had such a good, strong foundation on which to build. It’s a great organization and they’re just so dedicated to the profession and the professionals — working towards those safe and playable fields and garnering respect for the profession overall. And that really spoke to me as a professional.

ATN: What have you identified as some of the big challenges for the industry?

LS: There’s three areas really that are challenges for the industry as a whole. No. 1 is just the lack of knowledge that the general public has. Not really understanding that it is a true profession that requires a lot of study and expertise. (Members) don’t get the respect that they deserve. And then another challenge — and I see this across the board in most industries — is the lack of interest from younger individuals. I think it’s just a lack of knowledge, not knowing that this is a viable profession for them to pursue. And of course, the lack of diversity is an issue we face. I don’t see that as we’ve been exclusionary by any means. It’s just (we were) not spreading that word as far and wide as we possibly could in the past. Hopefully, we can correct that going forward.

ATN: What are some of the opportunities that you see within the industry?

LS: Attracting those underrepresented parties and populations to the organization and the industry is definitely one of our strategic initiatives. That comes back down to educating and sharing the information with schools that this is a viable profession and something that you don’t have to be in a rural community or a small-town community to be able to enter these kinds of fields. So, that’s one thing that I think would be beneficial, bringing the next generation into the industry. Encouraging young people to pursue that line of profession, as well as just making them understand that it is a true profession and (helping them learn) how they can get into the profession. Making sure they understand that it is a great profession, especially for athletes who don’t have a professional career coming forward. It would help them stay involved in sports. I think that’s a great opportunity.

ATN: What are some goals that you have for the organization?

LS: Overall, building on that solid foundation I mentioned so that the association can grow and thrive and continue on well into the future. More specifically, membership growth and attracting those younger and underserved populations into the industry and the organization, but also to continue to provide valuable programs in support of our members and our professionals to help them develop new resources and help them to succeed. That’s really what the association is all about. Building relationships and partnerships with other organizations so that we can work together and have that unified effort to help the industry and the wider industry as a whole, by combining our efforts and working together toward a common vision and goal.

ATN: Is there anything else that you want to share?

LS: We’ve got a great team at the SFMA headquarters. They’ve done such a great job during this transition and during the search for the new CEO, keeping things rolling and taking care of our members. We can’t thank them enough. I am really excited to be working with them. They’re a great group of professionals. It’s going to make my transition so much easier.

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