Rise Above

Lying, cheating, and attempting under-the-table cash payouts.

No, I’m not talking about a criminal who has just been convicted; I’m talking about someone who has been witnessing these acts in youth sports for the past 13 years as the recreation programmer for the city of Mesa, Ariz.

I’m talking about Carmen Scott.

The city’s programs, which cater to about 550 youngsters per year, continue to flourish because of those who really understand what youth sports are all about. And Scott certainly fits that category.

She shared her insights recently on the good, and the not-so-good, in administering youth-sports programs in today’s ever-challenging climate.

Q: What is the worst experience a child in your program has had, and how has that affected the way you do your job?

A: During one of the tournaments held at the end of the season, I discovered a coach was using players from an older team to fill his roster, which was clearly against the rules. This sent a terrible message to all his players about winning at all costs, and many of the younger players were disappointed they were not able to play in the game.

As a tournament director, it is frustrating to see this type of behavior, especially because coaches had been required to attend training prior to the start of the season. These meetings stressed fair and equal play for all participants. Because of this incident, rosters are now checked at the start of each game, in addition to checking the original roster upon arrival at the facility.

Q: What is the most challenging situation you have ever had to deal with, and how did you handle it?

A: When working with an outside agency to rent its facility for a summer sports program, the facility manager actually wanted me to pay his son under the table--in cash--to open and close the facility. I was totally shocked and contacted his supervisor to explain the situation, and how it would be impossible to spend taxpayer dollars in this manner. He then allowed us to rent the facility and provide our own supervisors to protect the interests of both agencies.

Q: Share the best display of good sportsmanship you have ever seen in your program.

A: A school liaison who assisted in recruiting coaches for an after-school sports program attended every practice and game to cheer for his students. At the end-of-the-season tournament, he stayed all day cheering them on. He was such a positive influence on everyone around him. He thanked the officials, and had his students and coaches do the same. His primary focus was good sportsmanship, and all of his players were expected to be on their best behavior. Even congratulating the other team became second nature, which was really special.

Q: What is the best idea your department has come up with, and how has it impacted your programs?

A: In the past, the department concluded the season by giving the kids soft drinks, chips, and candy at their final game. Then we re-thought what type of message was being sent regarding their health and fitness. Now, the items given away are geared toward the kids’ preferences. We hand out water bottles, key rings, pens, mechanical pencils, and CD cases, which include the department’s logo and phone number, which also helps market our program.

Q: Has there ever been a time when a child with a disability wanted to participate in your programs and you or your staff came up with an innovative way to include that youngster?

A: We have never turned an interested child away from a program. Whenever a child with a disability is interested in participating, we consult with the parents and brainstorm the best method for that youngster to participate. We have provided sign-language interpreters for those children who are hearing-impaired. We also have an Inclusion Specialist who is available to assist program staff with strategies to make the athlete’s experience successful.

Q: What are you most proud of about your program?

A: Our program is designed to teach the fundamentals of the sport, allowing children to learn and grow in a fun and non-threatening environment. We stress the importance of every child receiving equal playing time so they can better learn and improve the skills needed to play the game. We also set up a fee structure so income is not a barrier for anyone who is interested in participating.

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.