Colorful Memories

Photo Courtesy of NAYS

The recreation soccer team Wayne Simmons played on as a youngster was easy to spot: Besides the orange jerseys his team wore, they also took the field with orange hair that the kids had sprayed before their games. It’s one of Simmons’ favorite youth-sports memories.

“At this time the movie The Big Green was released by Disney, and our team adopted the team nickname “The Big Orange” since we had orange jerseys that season,” Simmons recalls. “At one of our games, a few players used orange hairspray left over from Halloween and played the game with orange hair. We had so much fun that the entire team began spraying our hair before each game for the remainder of the season.”

That colorful tradition carried on for several fun-filled seasons.

“The players on our team were very competitive by nature, but this act of silliness before each game helped remind us that at the end of the day we were participating because we enjoyed the sport and valued spending time with our friends,” Simmons says. “As I reflect back, I appreciate that our head coach and league embraced the innocent fun our team had, as it helped solidify a love and passion for the sport for myself and many of my teammates.”

All these years later, that craziness also serves as a wonderful reminder for Simmons, the athletic superintendent for the city of Greensboro (N.C.) Parks and Recreation Department, of what youth sports should really be about.

Here’s what else Simmons had to say about conducting sports programs for thousands of youngsters ranging in age from 4 to 17:

Fred: What is the toughest decision you’ve ever had to make?

Wayne: The toughest decision I’ve had to make this past year was suspending several players for a portion of the season due to a physical altercation that occurred at the end of a very competitive game. Our goal is to keep youngsters engaged in athletic programs so being forced to remove them for any period of time made me feel terrible. Although it was not an enjoyable decision, I felt strongly that it was in the best interest of the program and for those youths. They learned a valuable lesson about taking responsibility for their actions, including accepting the consequences.

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

Wayne: There are always two sides to a story. I have found that taking the time to gather all of the information has allowed me to make sound decisions that provide the best possible outcomes.

Fred: Is it challenging to recruit women to volunteer to coach?

Wayne: At times it can be very challenging. Several factors may deter women from volunteering, such as career obligations, lack of experience with a particular sport, and a perception they may not be respected as the coach by other parents. These barriers must be overcome. In addition, many parents, male and female, don’t have the desire to accept the stressful role associated with being a volunteer coach due to the challenges they face on and off the field.

Fred: What are the three most important pieces of advice you would give to someone just starting out in this profession?

Wayne: 1.) Remain calm at all times, and be sincere in listening to parents’ and coaches’ concerns. Many of the emotional outbursts that occur are because a child is the parents’ most prized possession, and they will always want what is best for their child.

2.) Study your craft throughout your career. Annually review rules for all of the governing bodies of a sport to understand any new trends, which also allows you to answer questions that arise from participants playing in various leagues that use different rules. Also, understanding officiating principles and mechanics for all sports you are involved in will help you evaluate the effectiveness of officials, as well as allow you to properly explain situations to parents and coaches.

3.) Network, network, and network some more. Being able to reach out to friends who are experts is one of the biggest assets a professional can have.

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.