The Best And Worst

By Fred Engh

In speaking with recreation professionals over the years, I have found it interesting--and alarming--that there is an almost universal agreement that parents pose the most challenges.


I asked Tim Kerbs, the long-time recreation-program supervisor at the Salina Parks and Recreation Department in Kansas, if he were to be made czar of youth sports nationwide for a day, what would be the first thing he would change?

He said: “I would have the parents watch youth games from closed-circuit TVs away from the field or gym. No parents would be in the stands, and no scores would be recorded. They would just play for fun!”

I bet most of his peers would echo those thoughts.

Despite the challenges parents present at times, Kerbs quickly added that his job is also richly rewarding, as he sees children of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities playing sports, learning skills, and having fun. It’s the reason he decided during his sophomore year in college to pursue this line of work.

These days, Kerbs and his staff provide top-quality programming for 2,500 kids, ranging from 3 to 18 years old; a 10-sport menu covers everything from soccer and basketball to volleyball and kickball.

Check out what else he had to share regarding the highs and lows of conducting youth-sports programming:


Share one story that sticks out in your mind about something that took place in your program that makes all the long hours and hard work worthwhile.

Tim: I was coaching a 12-and-under youth slow-pitch softball team. One girl was a first-time player, and she “talked” me into letting her play third base. I knew she believed in herself, but I hesitated not only because of her ability, but my fear she might get hurt. She wound up catching a line drive for the third out in the last inning. I will never forget the smile on her face!

What is the worst display of sportsmanship you have seen in your program, and how was the situation addressed?

Tim: One of the worst displays … occurred at a baseball game in the 13-year-old baseball league. The coach used some foul language to voice his disagreement with a call made by the umpire (this was before coaches’ certification was required). Ultimately, the confrontation involved not only the coach but the coach’s wife, a spectator, and a grandmother, who was shoved, with a near altercation between parents after the game! The situation was resolved after the police were called. The coach was suspended for two games, and never coached again in our program.

What was the best advice you ever received that has helped you perform your job better?

Tim: Always stay ahead of any potential problems, and take care of concerns right away.

What is the worst day on the job you have ever had?

Tim: The worst day, or I should say evening, was early in my career, and I still had some learning to do! I allowed an adult softball player who had been suspended for two weeks by a league umpire to play after one week. That same umpire happened to be at the game and saw the player on the field. I received a visit from the umpire that evening at my home. After that experience, I learned to check out the facts before making decisions.

What is the best idea you or your staff has come up with, and how has it impacted your youth-sports programming?

Tim: One of the best ideas the Salina Parks and Recreation Department has implemented is the certification of coaches, and educating parents and teams about the sports in which they will be participating. A positive impact has also been a reduction in coach suspensions, due in part to a better understanding of the role of a coach.

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 To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.