Dedicated To The Next Generation

By Fred Engh

Recreation professionals often put in ridiculously long hours, so even the smallest gestures from youngsters in the programs can have the biggest impact. Just ask Landon Carroll, the Recreation Program Manager for the town of Holly Springs Parks & Recreation in North Carolina.

“I remember working skills-assessment for a 9-10 boys soccer league,” recalls Carroll, who is in his fourth year as the recreation program manager at Holly Springs, and is a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. “All of the parents and players were leaving at the end to get in their cars. We were cleaning up equipment on the field when I looked up to see one of the participants running back out to the field. I thought he had forgotten a ball or water bottle. He came right up to me just to say, ‘Thanks, coach’ and ran back to the car. That one little comment made that long day worth it.”

Despite the long and challenging days in providing soccer, football, baseball, basketball, softball, track and field, and cheerleading programs for youngsters ranging from ages 4 to 16, it is also incredibly rewarding for Carroll to be able to positively influence the lives of children through sports.

He shares more in the following:

Fred: There is a trend of younger kids wanting to “play up” an age group in order to go against better competition. Is this a good thing?

Landon: My personal opinion is to let a child play in his or her designated age group. There are a good number of kids who have the skills and size to play up to the next age group. But most kids lack the physical and emotional maturity to play with the older group.. It’s not a bad thing for a kid to be the best player in a younger group rather than an average player in the next age group. That approach allows the younger player to be the focus of the opposing team and to learn how to deal with that. It’s also good to allow a child to enjoy having success while playing with friends the same age. There is no reason to rush anything by playing up.

Fred: What is the best idea your department has come up with since you have been there?

Landon: Not keeping score for our 8-and-under basketball league. While we had already not been keeping standings, we were starting to see some blowout games. A 26-2 game finally made me decide to stop keeping score. This allowed the league to focus on fundamentals, fun, and learning how to play the game. We still play with a clock and officials, and we do keep a book for everything but the score. The kids sometimes attempt to keep score, but they are rarely accurate. I heard some kids at one game telling each other they were winning when the actual score was easily in favor of the other team.

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

Landon: I work with both youth and adult leagues. It’s fairly common to have to suspend an adult participant for unsportsmanlike behavior. The worst days that I have on the job are the rare occasions when I have to suspend youth participants. You never want to suspend a kid, but there are some occasions of extreme unsportsmanlike behavior when it’s necessary.

Fred: At what age should kids be allowed to play tackle football?

Landon: Kids should be allowed to play tackle football around age 7. Teaching the fundamentals of tackling properly is the most important thing to help reduce the increasing number of concussions occurring around the country. It is also important that equipment fits properly. A majority of kids and parents have a difficult time understanding how tight a helmet should fit in order to protect properly. Some players on TV are bad role models for wearing helmets that do not fit properly or not wearing their chin straps correctly. Special attention must be paid to any type of head or neck injuries. Our department requires a doctor’s note to clear a player to return to play after sustaining any type of head or neck injury.

Fred: Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?

Landon: I have always enjoyed playing and watching sports. The day I realized I did not have a future playing sports was the day I decided I would work in sports. I gained experience with professional sports and recreation while attending North Carolina State University. Youth sports are a place I can make a difference in the participants’ lives.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.