Southwest Park

Okay, so I chose the name “Southwest Park” because it’s the first name I could think of in a general way to talk about all parks and recreation facilities in America. These are the facilities where hundreds of kids and their parents take part in baseball, softball, soccer, football and countless other games, depending on the time of year. While it would take months to figure exactly how many “Southwest Parks” there are in this country, assume there are thousands. Keep in mind these facilities are built with tax dollars, collectively in the billions. So why is it that with all the monies we put into constructing these facilities, in the end, we turn them over to volunteers who have no accountability?

Across from many of the “parks” are elementary schools with hundreds of children taught by certified teachers who have gone through at least four years of college before being allowed to teach. Yet, those same children after school and on weekends are in an outdoor classroom, learning life’s lessons in facilities that are monitored by people who--the overwhelming majority of the time--have had little training dealing with children. The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) was founded on the idea of changing this.

League Rules For Team Players

First and foremost, NAYS believes sports have great value for children, by which young people learn life’s lessons in a positive way, such as winning and losing with grace and never giving up, and the importance of sportsmanship, ethics and fair play. Outside the sports arena, these are invaluable in helping children achieve in life and be the fine people everyone wants them to be. Some of the great leaders of the world relate how they succeeded because of what they learned through sports. So we need to do it right, not simply turn over these expensive facilities to people with little training or accountability.

Recreation departments and citizens need to think about instituting policies that will set a benchmark for the requirements to use a community facility. When a league officer asks for a permit to use a park for a baseball league of 1,000 kids, why not say, “Sure, but only after you and your board go through a brief orientation on what children can gain from a well-focused league.” The same should apply to the parents recruited to coach the teams. Ask the parents who will sit in the stands watching their kids play to go through an orientation so they understand how important sports are for the children. Finally, tell the league coordinator if some parents are making numerous complaints, generating a negative atmosphere; perhaps they will not be permitted to use the facilities the next year.

Many communities are adopting this philosophy because it makes sense. They are seeing the youth sports experience improving for children, while the win-at-all-costs coaches and parents are starting to get the message.

Setting Higher Standards

In 2001, NAYS gathered 65 recreation professionals from across America in Chicago with a clear mission: raise the standards by which communities conduct youth sports programs.

The result of this historic meeting was the Recommendations for Communities, a 30-page document that outlines what respected leaders in the parks and recreation field believe all communities must adopt to ensure the best possible environment for children’s participation.

In brief, the Recommendations focus on three key areas for implementation:

· Adopt a community philosophy that makes youth sports safe and positive for children.

· Appoint a professional youth sports administrator to ensure adherence to the philosophy.

· Hold everyone associated with the program accountable for their behavior.

The Recommendations are free and can be downloaded from the NAYS Web site at

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on He can be reached via e-mail at