Remaining Relevant

By Fred Engh
Photo Courtesy Of NAYS

Teens who have been cut from their high-school basketball teams, or those not interested in playing at that competitive level, love participating in a popular high-school intramural basketball league at the city of Kearney (Neb.) Park & Recreation Department.


“Although the games can get competitive, it is definitely a social affair,” says Scott Hayden, the director.

It’s also a memory-maker for the youngsters—and for Hayden, too.

This year’s league-championship game featured a crowd of about 200 people. Hayden reports that it’s not uncommon for many teachers, parents, and friends to watch. “The league-championship game is always very popular,” he says.

During the title game, the team trailing by 20 points at halftime came back to win at the buzzer on a desperation shot from beyond half-court.

“The crowd rushed the court as if they had just won the state championship,” Hayden says. “This put a smile on my face because these kids rarely get to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that sports provide.”

Hayden’s recreation career has given him plenty of opportunities to see sports shape lives, which he discusses further:

Fred: What sparked your interest to choose a career in recreation?

Scott: I attended BethanyCollege in Lindsborg, Kan., and I truly didn’t know what I was going to major in until I saw Recreation Management. With each class I attended, I knew this was the career for me. There are few professions that can have a greater impact on a person’s life and a community as a whole. Everything is right in the world when you’re in the middle of a game.

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

Scott: One of the most unique things our department does is we accept applications, interview, and hire our youth-sports coaches and officials. In addition, we have full-time staff be the leaders of the programs. Volunteer coaches can be excellent, but can also be a challenge. Schools have paid staff to teach the children, so why shouldn’t youth sports be an extension of that? Having seasonal employees serve as coaches and officials provides built-in controls in the program, and allows us to elevate the sports experience beyond what the player or parent can imagine. We are able to execute well-organized practice plans because we have vibrant and experienced employees, all working toward the same goals.

Fred: What are you most proud of in your youth sports programs?

Scott: I am proud of my staff, and that we don’t compromise our values. Our focus is on conducting programs that are for all skill levels, age-appropriate, safe, exciting, organized, skill-based, and led by people who are knowledgeable, compassionate, and enthusiastic. Our goal is to exceed the expectations of the participants and parents, and as a result keep kids coming back year after year and playing for a lifetime.

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

Scott: Any day we have to cancel a program due to weather!

Fred: Is it a challenge to keep kids coming back year after year?

Scott: First, I think you have to have a passion for what you do. It must be genuine and radiate through the participants and staff. Second, it’s important to put kids in a position to be successful in some capacity. Confidence may be the most important skill to gain in sports. Of course, the program must be fun in order to keep them coming back. The goal is not to be part of the national average of 70 percent of participants who quit sports by the age of 13.

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.