Destined For Recreation

By Fred Engh

Growing up, Lisa Davol loved playing sports, competing, and being part of a team. So by the time she stepped onto the University of Georgia campus in 1993, it was clear she was destined for a career in recreation.

“Growing up with older brothers, I was always outside playing sports, and the older I got the more I wanted to compete and be part of a team,” says Davol, who has been with the Oconee County (Ga.) Parks and Recreation Department for 10 years, the past five as its Deputy Director. “I also found that I enjoyed working with youth and coached several youth teams while in college. Teaching youth-sport skills as well as life lessons through sports became a passion that led me to my current career.”

Davol’s responsibility-packed job includes overseeing all programs and special events at the facility, which involves more than 5,000 youth participating annually in a diverse offering of sports programs.

“Creating a sports environment that is fun encourages youth to be active while reaping the health benefits of a physically active lifestyle,” says Davol, who is also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. Here’s what else she had to say about the rewards and challenges of her job:

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

Lisa: Removing a parent from watching his or her child participate in sports is a tough decision. It is not difficult to eject a parent when the behavior warrants it; the hard part is determining how that action may affect the child. Every child wants their parent to be supportive and cheer them on, so if they have to witness the removal of a parent, it can have a negative effect on the game. However, removing one unruly parent can ensure the enjoyment of all of the other parents and players.

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

Lisa: I was told once to “live each day as if it was your last.” For me that means smiling, laughing, and keeping things in perspective. I also believe in doing what you love and loving what you do. By following these credos, we are able to create a positive environment where youth can enjoy the moment and make positive memories playing sports.

Fred: What is your department’s most popular youth sports program?

Lisa: In our department, youth soccer has not only experienced the fastest growth, but also has the largest participation. I attribute its success to the modified rules and field sizes based on age. By adapting the rules and fields to age-appropriate levels, youth have more opportunities to be engaged in the game. In addition, only gross motor skills are necessary at the youngest level to play the game, which also provides a platform for more success. As youth get older, more advanced skills are required to be successful, which keeps the sport challenging.

Fred: What’s better for kids: participation trophies for everyone or trophies for only the best teams?

Lisa: I believe there is a place for both participation trophies and trophies for the best teams. A lot depends on the age of the players and level of competition. Once players are older, participation trophies lose value, players are able to accept if they are on the best team or not, and rewarding the best teams becomes an important life lesson. Teaching players how to be good sports regardless of a win-loss record is the most prized attribute.

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

Lisa: I am very competitive by nature; however, when coordinating youth sports I try to focus on creating a fun and positive environment for all youth. I still believe that competition in sports is an important part of the game, but ensuring that the level of competitiveness is appropriate for the age group is part of our job as youth-sports administrators.

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.