Do More Than Show Up

By Fred Engh

Love Ishie knows all about challenges and, more importantly, overcoming them.


Thanks to a basketball scholarship he earned to play at The Citadel, he left his family in Lagos, Nigeria, when he was 19 and moved more than 5,000 miles away to Charleston, S.C.

Four years later, he was armed with a degree in physical education and a clear vision that he wanted to help make a difference in kids’ lives through the power of sports.

But it wasn’t always easy.

“My freshman year in college was quite challenging,” says Ishie, the Rural Youth Athletics Coordinator for the Charleston County (S.C.) Park & Recreation Commission and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator.

“I struggled with my grades, and I didn’t have any family relatives around for support. I had to learn American English since I grew up speaking and spelling the British way. Despite all the challenges, I was able to adjust with some help from coaches, classmates, teammates, and some teaching staff.”

These days, Ishie is the one doling out the help by vigorously giving back to the kids in the community, as more than 500 participants ages 5 to 14 annually participate in the department’s varied programming, which features football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, cheerleading, and flag football.

As a member of the commission for 18 years--half of those in his current position--he shares his thoughts on youth sports:

What’s better for kids, participation trophies for everyone or first-place trophies for the best team? Ishie: Participation trophies are excellent when used in an instructional-league setting. Typically, kids in these leagues are ages 3 to 8. Generally, these trophies are used as a reward or to identify a given skill learned by each child.

However, giving out participation trophies in a non-instructional or rec-league setting should not be encouraged. Kids will not learn the real meaning of hard work and discipline. It sends the wrong message to kids that by simply showing up, they are guaranteed a trophy, no matter what. They simply will not try their best.

As you can see, I am all for first-place trophies awarded to the best team. Our goal as recreation professionals should be to encourage kids through sports to pursue excellence and not mediocrity.

Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?
Ishie: During my senior year in college, one of my graduation requirements was to complete a field internship, so I selected a local recreation department.

During my field experience, I witnessed my first youth-sports game. I couldn’t get over how much fun the kids were having and the rich experience they were gaining from the adults coaching them.

Also, I saw how dedicated the staff members were and how much fun I had working as an intern, and those experiences led me into the field of recreation.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received that has helped you perform your job better? Ishie: Coach John Wooden said, “You can make mistakes, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes.” This statement has helped me in the way I conduct and perform my job on a daily basis.

Accepting mistakes and working hard to correct them will bring success. When we make excuses, we can’t evaluate ourselves properly and thus can bring about failure.

How did the youth-sports experiences you had as a child affect how you handle your responsibilities today?
Ishie: I didn’t play youth sports, but I played plenty of pick-up soccer with friends in my neighborhood. My first organized sports participation was in high-school track and field.

Besides having fun as an athlete, I learned about perseverance, hard work, teamwork, and not settling for less. Those experiences have had a tremendous impact not only on how I do my job, but also on how I conduct my personal life.

I like to think that I am a hard worker, but am not afraid of making mistakes. Accepting my mistakes and working to correct them is what will make me grow both professionally and personally.

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.