Making Positive Memories

By Fred Engh
Photo Courtesy of NAYS

Growing up, Rick Bruya’s sports participation was packed with fun, learning, and character-building experiences. And—as it turned out—a career-shaping one too.


From the stinging disappointment of not making an all-star team as a 10-year-old after earning a coveted spot the year before, to capping his senior season of high school football with a state championship, Bruya’s wide-ranging experiences were the perfect backdrop for launching him into the field of recreation. These days, he savors his role in guiding youngsters of all ages and abilities in their athletic events.

“I always enjoyed playing sports growing up, and was lucky enough to have pretty good experiences,” says Bruya, the recreation coordinator for Auburn Parks, Arts & Recreation in Auburn, Wash. “I wanted to provide a positive outlet where children could enjoy a positive youth-sports experience.”

More than 1,500 children participate annually in the city’s diverse programs. Here’s what Bruya, a Certified Youth Sports Administrator who recently completed his 21 st year at Auburn, has to say about his rewarding and challenging responsibilities:

Fred : What puts a smile on your face and makes all the hard work and long hours worthwhile?

Rick : The former participants who are now coaches and parents of children in our youth-sports programs.

Fred : How frustrating is it that, for any number of reasons, you may not be able to provide a rewarding experience for every child?

Rick : It can be very frustrating at times. To me, the experience the child and family have is dictated by how involved they are with the program. Parents who do nothing but complain and point fingers are destined to have a bad experience, but if they are willing to get involved, they can be a positive part of the program and ensure a good experience for the players, other families, and themselves.

Fred : What is the best idea your department has come up with since you have been there, and how has it impacted your program?

Rick : Not keeping scores or standings for our sports programs. It has had a positive effect, and really lets parents know ours is a recreational-based program.

Fred : Name a goal you’d like your department to accomplish at some point in the future.

Rick : We would like to see a greater emphasis placed on sportsmanship, so we are trying to come up with ways to accomplish this goal and also make the league more fun and attractive to participants.

Fred : How are youth sports different today compared to those when you grew up?

Rick : With the visibility, money, and advertising of college and professional sports, parents and children have unrealistic expectations about the experience. Because parents paid the fee, they feel they can criticize coaches, officials, etc., while we are trying to emphasize participation, fun, and sportsmanship.

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

Rick : That we have a high return rate of coaches and players.

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.