Pass It On

By Fred Engh

Erin Niemeyer hit the youth-sports jackpot when she was growing up. Sport after sport and season after season, she was lucky enough to play for coaches who instilled life-defining values that continue to impact her today.


Now, she’s doing everything possible to make sure the roughly 3,000 kids who participate in programs offered by the Redwood City (Calif.) Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department are treated to the same types of high-quality experiences she enjoyed growing up.

“One of my fondest memories of playing youth sports was the time and endless energy my youth coaches dedicated to making sure my experience was positive and rewarding,” says Niemeyer, who was recently promoted to recreation supervisor, and has worked in the department for more than 10 years.

“I was so incredibly fortunate to have such high-quality coaches throughout my career, all of whom I looked upon as role models and mentors. To this day, I find myself using their words of wisdom, and they motivate me to have the same impact on the lives of the youth that I serve, as they had on my life.”

The department offers children ages 5 to 14 an array of sports, including track and field, cross-country, wrestling, flag football, street hockey, and indoor soccer, among others.

Here’s what else she had to say about the rewards and challenges of using sports to impact young lives:

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

Erin: The amount of quality athletic opportunities we provide and their low cost. The majority of our programs cost $50 to participate, which includes an eight-game season, playoffs, a school jersey, and a T-shirt. For those programs that are more expensive, we offer scholarships and payment plans for kids who qualify. Our school district does not have a sports program of its own, so we fill that need. Our participation numbers have increased each year that I have been with this program, as has the number of the athletic opportunities we offer.

Fred: What is the worst display of parent behavior that has taken place in your program?

Erin: Unfortunately, we have had incidences where the behavior of our parents and coaches has not been ideal. I have had parents tell me it is their “given right to scream at officials.” Parents have removed their children from games due to the perceived lack of playing time or because of a disagreement with officials. I do not believe those situations can be fully prevented, but can be mitigated through communication of expectations and understanding.

Fred: What is the biggest challenge your department faces, and how do you handle it?

Erin: With many volunteer organizations, finding enough dedicated, knowledgeable volunteers is always challenging, especially in lower-income schools. We are so grateful to our teachers, parents, and community members who are able to fill that void. We recruit coaches through various avenues, and provide as much quality training, support, and flexibility as possible.

Fred: Share the best day on the job you have ever had.

Erin: I don’t know if I have one “best” day, but every afternoon when I see the athletes excited, smiling, ready to play, and proud to wear their uniforms, I smile because that is why we work so hard and put in so many hours, so the kids can experience all the benefits athletics have to offer.

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.