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Role Models For Rookies

Photo Courtesy NAYS

Darryl Hopkins’ first experience playing youth football at age 7 turned out to be a life changer.

“The best coach that I played for growing up was the first coach I ever had,” recalls Hopkins, the superintendent of athletics for the Statesboro-BullochCountyParks and Recreation Department in Georgia. “I had the time of my life. I didn’t realize it then, but he affected my life, and he is a big part of why I am successful today.”

Successful, indeed, as he’s been ultra-busy capitalizing on his position, one he’s had for the past 15 years, to positively impact the lives of more than 3,500 youngsters who annually step through the department’s doors to participate in programs such as bowling, wrestling, tennis, and track, along with more traditional team sports like soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and softball.

“My wife had a negative coaching experience playing softball in the fourth grade and never played a team sport again,” says Hopkins, who is committed to doing everything he possibly can to make sure no child under his watch suffers the same experience.

Fred: Are travel teams good for kids?

Darryl: At one time, they were good, but I don’t feel that way now. Parents seem to think the only way for their child to get a college scholarship is to play travel ball. Parents are running travel teams to help their own child excel but have very little knowledge of what is good for all the children involved, much less how to deal with other parents.

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

Darryl: About 10 years ago, a high-school baseball player committed suicide on the pitcher’s mound at one of our fields. That was one of those days you wish you could start over and change the outcome. He had moved here a year earlier and did not participate in our program then.  Because of his age we didn’t get a chance to know him, but it didn’t matter. Because the tragedy took place in our park and on our field, we felt helpless. We wondered what we could have done to prevent this terrible situation.

Fred: What sparked the passion you have for providing quality youth-sports programming?

Darryl: Along with most college football players, I wanted to play in the NFL. An injury in my senior year changed that dream, but I graduated with a degree in sports management with a minor in business. I thought I wanted to be a college athletic director. About 8 months after I graduated, I returned to my alma mater and coached football for 3 years. I then worked with Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department as an athletic supervisor, and after 2 years I was promoted to superintendent of athletics. That’s when I put two and two together and realized the importance of youth sports. Now I’m definitely at the place where I know sports can affect the lives of children.

Fred: Is the behavior of spectators at youth-sports events these days getting better or worse?

Darryl: Spectators are getting worse, without a doubt. They think it’s their right to misbehave. Usually the worst coaches are yelling and causing a problem because they can’t coach. Once the coach misbehaves, team parents follow suit. I have been refereeing high-school football since 1998. There was a game where a fan jumped the fence trying to get to the referees because he was mad about a call we made from two feet away, and he was 50 yards away. Thankfully, the law was there to arrest him. We need more arrests so spectators will learn they can’t act that way. In our park, unruly spectators are told to leave, and we will call the police for assistance, if needed.

Fred: There is a trend of younger kids wanting, or being pushed by their parents, to “play up” an age group to go against better competition. Is this a good thing?

Darryl: I don’t think being pushed for better competition is good. Children advance at different rates. If they are the best in their age group, this does not mean they can handle playing up in an older age group or will excel with older children. Skill level is not the only issue to consider. There is also the social and emotional maturity level, as well as the cognitive level.

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

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