Just Getting Started

Samantha Dickenson has been the Recreation Coordinator–Athletics at the city of Roanoke (Va.) Parks & Recreation for less than a year, but she’s already seeing the life-changing impact of her efforts.

“At the end of the 2014 youth basketball season, a mother and her teenage son approached me and asked if they could talk to me,” explained Dickenson. “The teenager thanked me for the basketball league. He said he had a lot of fun and made new friends. His mother went on to tell me that his grades had improved as well as his behavior, and he would be trying out for the high school team this coming year. It was nice to hear that what we do truly does impact young lives.”

Sports had a major impact on Dickenson’s life—both playing and watching games—and she always knew her passion for sports would propel her to some type of profession involving them.   

“I have always loved sports, especially baseball,” says Dickenson, who is also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. “I grew up playing baseball and softball and watching countless baseball games with my grandpa. My parents were always supportive and encouraging, and I knew that I would one day work in a sports field. It wasn’t until 2001 when I worked at a residential summer camp that I realized I wanted to go into youth programming.”

Here’s what else Dickenson has to share about providing quality sports programming for roughly 2,000 children, ages 6 to 18:

Fred: What is your favorite youth-sports memory growing up?

Samantha: My older sister coached my rec league softball team one summer. We weren’t the best team in the league, but we all got to try different positions. She encouraged us to try and steal bases, whether we were fast or not. She also taught us about integrity. I learned that there is more to youth sports than winning.

Fred: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Samantha: My biggest pet peeve in youth sports is when kids stop having fun because of their coach’s or parent’s behavior.

Fred: What are the three most important things you would stress to people just starting out in your line of work to help them perform their job better?

Samantha: Be patient with parents, coaches, etc.

Don’t get frustrated; not everyone understands the concept of recreational sports.

You really are making a difference.

Fred: What would you like to see more of in your job? And less of?

Samantha: I would love to see more volunteers and parents grasp the concept that these experiences are for the youth and that we have an opportunity to positively impact young lives. I would like to see fewer spectators getting upset with coaches and officials.

Fred: What is the best idea your department has come up with since you have been there?

Samantha: We have begun to implement concussion training for each youth sport we offer.

Fred: How have your own youth-sports experiences, both good and bad, affected how you approach your job today?

Samantha: When setting up leagues, talking to coaches, etc., I think back to my various youth-sports experiences and what it was like to have a coach or league administrator who was there for the right reasons: to share a love for a sport and to share that knowledge with youth and how that made the league run smoothly. I try to never channel my bad coaching experiences into my job.    

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.