Stay The Course

By Fred Engh
Photo Courtesy Of NAYS

When Patrick Senn stepped onto the campus of FranklinCollege in Indiana more than a decade ago, he was like most other college freshmen—he had his whole life ahead of him and no clue what to do with it.

But then one class changed his life forever.

“I took an Intro to Recreation class and thought that looked like a fun career,” recalls Senn, the Sports Coordinator of the Columbus (Ind.) Parks & Recreation Department. “I started two weeks after graduation and haven’t looked back.”

While Senn’s job title has remained the same since he started 13 years ago, his job has continually evolved, and his responsibilities have multiplied. His department provides an array of programs annually, including hockey, figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, and baseball, among others, for more than 7,000 youngsters, ages 4 to 18. But soccer reigns supreme.

“Soccer is a big deal in our community,” Senn says. “Both of our high schools have good soccer programs, and the kids see that and want to try and do the same.”

Here’s what else Senn had to say about the challenges and rewards of impacting children’s lives through sports programming:

Fred: Is it a challenge to get kids to return year after year to participate?

Patrick: It has become harder and harder to get kids coming back. I think part of the reason is they are focusing on one sport at an earlier age. I don’t like that approach. I think kids should participate in as many sports as they enjoy. I just try to continually improve our programs and keep them fun so kids will return.

Fred: What are the three things you would stress to someone just starting out in this profession?

Patrick: First, there will always be parents and coaches who will be upset. Always stay calm and level-headed so any situations that do arise don’t get out of hand. Second, don’t be afraid of change. There is always room for improvement, and sometimes change is needed for improvement. Third, be open-minded. This has not always been, and probably still isn’t, my best quality. Sometimes other people will have better ideas than you. There might be trends with programs that send you outside your comfort zone, but be open to them.

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

Patrick: I always had fun playing sports, and that’s what I want for our participants. Sports have become a lot more competitive since I was a kid. Competition is not always a bad thing, but I believe it is happening too early in kids’ lives.

Fred: What is your favorite memory from playing sports as a child?

Patrick: My best memories are how much fun I had with friends while participating in different sports. I’ve always loved sports. That is one of the things that is rewarding about the job, knowing that I am providing an opportunity for kids to have fun playing sports.

Fred: What puts a smile on your face?

Patrick: What makes me smile is just seeing the kids participating and having fun. That’s the most important thing in sports, to have fun!

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.