Leading The Way

In every segment of society, there are people who stand out as leaders. They have the vision, passion, and work ethic to make things happen.

Is this true in the parks and recreation industry, too? Of course it is.

Over the years, I have admired many recreation professionals who fit in this 10-percent group. These are the people who go above and beyond in their efforts to make their communities better places, especially for the youngsters who play organized sports in public facilities.

Miste Adams, the recreation superintendent at the National Trail Parks and Recreation District in Ohio, is, without question, a 10-percenter.

Over the next few months, this column will focus on great leaders who shine in parks and recreation, particularly when it comes to kids playing sports.

Take a look at what Miste has to say:

Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?

Miste: I grew up playing youth sports, and I played sports all through high school and college. It is how I met my best friend and my husband.

Looking back at my childhood, many of the great memories involved some type of youth sport or activity.

I worked at a volleyball camp while in college, and my team wrote me a poem at the end of the week about what a great time they had and what a wonderful counselor I was. I still get it out and read it from time to time.

I just love working with kids in a fun atmosphere. What better job than to go out on a beautiful Ohio Saturday morning and watch 900 of "my" kids play soccer with their friends? It is a great feeling.

There are always going to be children playing sports who have a miserable experience and maybe even have their confidence and self-esteem crushed in the process. How do you deal with that?

Miste: Not every child is going to love sports, and not every coach is going to be coach of the year. It took me a few years to realize this and not take it personally.

One good thing about our department is that we do offer other things than just youth sports. So we try to get kids involved with other positive activities until they find something they like.

It goes back to my sporting philosophy, "You can’t win them all," but when kids come back year after year until they are too old for the program and then they want to work for you, that is always a great feeling!

Most outsiders think a recreation professional’s job is 9 to 5 and has little stress or headaches. Is this true?

Miste: Being a recreation professional is not all just fun and games. People will see me out at the fields watching the games and will tell me what a great job I have. I always tell them the games are the easy part.

What people don’t see is that I have already put in 40-plus hours in the office on the phone ordering T-shirts and equipment, making last-minute staffing changes when someone calls in sick, praying it doesn’t rain or snow until after the games are over, or dealing with the parents who are not getting their way or think it should be done some other way to better suit their child.

I often have to explain to people that I understand they want what they think is best for their child, but I have to do what is best for all the kids, not just a select few. That doesn’t always go over so well, but that is what I have been trained to do!

Share one story that has made the profession you have chosen worthwhile.

Miste: I have one young man who played in my soccer leagues for years. Then he worked his way through college officiating soccer. This past school year, he worked in our after-school program, and then went on to take a summer internship at a local park system.

It has been great to watch him grow and mature. He still refs soccer for me when he can.

I also have kids working for me now that I had in a program when they were 3 years old. No, I am not getting older; the kids are just quickly catching up with me!

Do you think recreation professionals are as important to children outside the classroom as teachers are to them inside the classroom?

Miste: Absolutely! I think teachers have such a responsibility to provide the best education possible, but with all the standardized tests, they no longer have the flexibility to have fun. That is where the recreation professional comes into play.

Youth sports teach teamwork, discipline, physical activity, and so much more that you might not learn in the classroom. We need to make sure as professionals we are providing a safe, fun learning experience for all kids and realize the impact we have on their lives.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.