PRB Articles


Healthy Pursuits

Photo Courtesy Of NAYS

Kelly Leger’s journey to becoming recreation superintendent at SpaldingCounty (Ga.) Parks and Recreation didn’t begin in typical fashion.

“My path to recreation superintendent began as a nursing-home social worker, where I saw many people suffering with chronic disease,” says Leger. “I then had the opportunity to be involved firsthand in developing prevention programs as a recreation senior-center supervisor. I worked to develop physical-activity programs which the senior adults became enthusiastic about. I discovered through my experiences in recreation that the more active people were, the healthier they were.”

Ten years later, she was promoted to her current position, which she has been in for seven years. Her passion is relentless for providing quality programs that have kids craving to participate in year after year.

“I’ve learned that if people are not having fun, they will stop doing whatever it is they're doing,” she says. “I have heard numerous times about children losing interest in sports because of the pressures and burnout, and I believe that their loss of interest is preventable.”

Here’s what else Leger had to say about the joys and challenges that accompany providing sports programs for youngsters ages 3 to 17:

Fred: Share a story that puts a smile on your face.

Kelly: We have some very hard-working part-time staff, and we would not have a program without their dedication. I'd have to say that what puts a smile on my face is when I hear the staff members say, “I love my job,” so they go the extra mile for the kids. During this past football season, one of the football players lost his mother to cancer, and my staff members planned a game-dedication ceremony for the player before his first game back since losing her. The staff also organized an effort for the team members to wear their jerseys to the funeral. It was very moving, and the family expressed how much the gesture meant to them. Yes, it's more than a game.

Fred: What’s the most popular youth program you offer, and why is it such a big hit with the kids?

Kelly: In our community, youth soccer and baseball are the most popular sports. Both programs are well organized and managed by parent volunteers who give of their time year-round. The programs are dedicated to promoting their sport with an attitude that it must remain fun for the kids. The programs are safe and coordinated closely with the recreation office to ensure that all coaches are properly certified and trained.

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

Kelly: When facing a challenging decision about a youth program, one can't go wrong if one thinks about the child first.

Fred: How have your own youth-sports experiences affected how you approach your job?

Kelly: I did not have the same opportunity as many children have today to participate in youth sports; however, a baseball complex was a short distance from my home, and I walked there every day to watch and learn. I was a “tomboy” and loved all sports, so I found ways to play them with my brother, sisters, and friends in the neighborhood. Because I had few opportunities to play organized sports, I feel strongly today about keeping sports affordable, fun, and safe.

Fred: Is it a challenge to get kids to keep coming back year after year to participate, and what do you do so that physical activity is a big part of their lives?

Kelly: I believe that attitude is everything! Good coaches, well-organized programs, and accountable parent associations are key components to increase the likelihood of a child having a good experience and staying with the program. Keeping the focus on fun and good sportsmanship is critical to a successful program.

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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