Photo Courtesy of NAYS
In 2003 the City of Arlington (Texas) Parks and Recreation Department decided to resume its youth-sports programming after more than a 20-year hiatus. And what a return it has been. Starting with 250 kids in that first year, the department now averages more than 5,000 participants annually.
“Based on customer-survey responses, we started offering youth sports again due to our community asking us to get back in the youth-sports business,” says Wendy Parker, who has been the athletic director at the city for the past dozen years. “Our purpose was simple: Have kids participate without the pressure of competitive sports, while having fun.”
And the kids have certainly been having a lot of fun through the years, thanks to the “Playing is Winning” philosophy, which the department uses for all of its programs. “Our program goal focuses on the child and their involvement instead of the score,” Parker says. “Participants are winning in social skills, teamwork, and physical fitness while having fun.
“Youth leagues enable volunteer coaches, league administrators, and officials to work together for a common goal--the children. They are the true benefactors of what we do on and off the field each day. I can’t think of a better example for our participants to see first-hand what being a role model is all about.”
Parker shares more about the ups and downs of overseeing a variety of programs for children ages 3-12 in the following interview:
Fred: What are the three most important points for success you would suggest to someone just starting out in this profession?
Wendy: Surround yourself with staff members who are passionate about youth sports, always keep participant safety as the number-one goal, and have fun! If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and try not to make it again!
Fred: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received that has helped you in your job?
Wendy: Don’t take it personally! This advice has saved me from many restless nights. Keep the program elements in perspective, and remember that when an upset parent calls, he or she is probably just venting frustrations with the event, not at you personally. Let the parent vent about the game-day mishap, and then address the issue a piece at a time.
Fred: How have your own youth-sports experiences affected how you approach your job?
Wendy: Well, my coordination skills were less than average, so basketball, tennis, and softball were off the table. When I took up swimming, I finally found something I could do without having to catch, kick, or hit a ball! It was a match made in heaven! My swim coach always emphasized the importance of dedication, teamwork, and sportsmanship. These basic skills I learned during swim practice and meets so long ago have paved the way for my journey through life. It all boils down to being dedicated to what you are doing and respecting others while doing it.
Fred: What’s the toughest decision you’ve ever had to make?
Wendy: Removing a coach from a program has been one of my toughest decisions. When a coach has been part of the program for many years but changes and no longer supports the program’s goals, it is a difficult decision to end the relationship. Unfortunately, it happens. The key to success is recognizing the situation and planning a way to remove the coach without alarming all of the participants, especially if they have been with the team for many years. At the end of the day, your primary goal is to provide safe and fun youth-sports programs.
Fred: Why are you so passionate about sports and youth programming?
Wendy: I have always had a passion for sports as a child and as an adult, so it was a natural career path, because working with these groups is truly rewarding. Our programs and services offer a vehicle that will fuel kids’ personal success and enhance their quality of life.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at email@example.com or (800) 729-2057.