Focusing On Fun

By Fred Engh

Youngsters participating in sports programs at the Simpsonville Parks and Recreation Department in Kentucky will never complain about being bored. Department Director Chris Truelock makes sure of that.


“Last season, we dedicated ourselves to ensuring that fun in our youth-sports programs was paramount, and we refused to continue to offer the same, old, standard sports leagues,” says Truelock, who took over at the start of 2012 after 18 years at the Bloomington (Ind.) Parks and Recreation Department. “We wanted much more for our participants, so we added music, special-effects smoke, lighting, and the national anthem to player introductions.”

But the department didn’t stop there. Toss in silly games conducted with parents at halftime, plus dance and cheer entertainment, and game days are packed with non-stop fun for the kids—and the parents, too.

“We have more kids participating this season than ever before,” says Truelock. “We also have a more supportive sporting atmosphere and happier customers.”

Truelock shares more about the rewards and challenges in providing programming for kids ages 4 to 17:

Fred: How do you work with outside groups using your facilities?

Chris: We maintain an open line of communication with user groups, while stressing our departmental goals, objectives, and expectations. It is important to maintain a seat or voice on the various user-groups’ boards. I don't believe it is asking too much to require safety standards, background checks, training for coaches and an adherence of national standards. Because our facilities are involved, our name is attached to the program in some form. Simply from a branding standpoint, we must insist our values are adhered to.

Fred: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake parents make with their kids when it comes to playing sports these days?

Chris: Parents often place excessive pressure on youngsters with insurmountable goals, and hop from league to league and instructor to instructor, determined to get the best for their child. There seems to be this hurried sense that the child is running out of time to be the best. If parents only spent the same amount of time and effort planning a rational approach to their concerns, rather than seeking an immediate quick fix, they could prevent a lot of stress and lower their blood pressure.

Fred: What is the best piece of advice you ever received that has helped you perform your job better?

Chris: Give 100-percent effort always, or step aside so someone else can. People appreciate and respect you and your work if you are all-in, all of the time. There is nothing more detrimental to a youth-sports experience than someone who just goes through the motions. You and your customers deserve more than this.

Fred: What's better for kids—participation trophies for everyone or trophies for the best teams?

Chris: Participation trophies/medals are an appropriate way to recognize the efforts of all players and their accomplishments, regardless of a team's win/loss record. Trophies for league champions and runner-ups can also be appropriate provided they are kept in perspective. I've found that rewarding the efforts of the entire league rather than the ultimate goal of a youth-league championship best serves the recreational philosophy. I've always said this about season-ending tournaments and the honoring of championship teams: They can at times be a bad way to end a good season.

Fred: Share one story that puts a smile on your face and makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile.

Chris: The one that comes to mind is the player who made her first basket during the final game of the season. The look on her face and that on her mom’s face, plus the crowd cheering, was unforgettable. So, when I asked her for her autograph after the game, she blushed, signed the game ball, and then sprinted to her mom for a hug. Priceless!

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.