When The Career Chooses You

Michael Wardlow, the recreational program supervisor for the City of Largo (Fla.) Recreation Parks & Arts, has seen the life-changing impact sports can have on children—and nothing makes him happier.

During a recent flag-football season, a mother whose husband walked out on her and their son enrolled the youngster in the program in hopes it would help him overcome his depression and open up to her.

“Because of his experience and the awesome staff member who was his coach, believing and preaching our sports mission (Today we will strive to STRENGTHEN youth by helping CREATE lasting memories and FUN for all!), this young athlete was able to come out of his shell,” says Wardlow, who is also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. “He opened up to his coach and teammates, which in turn helped him open up to his mother about how he was feeling. It is stories like this one that motivate me to work the long hours, and I know it is worth it to make a difference, not only in a young athlete's life but the whole families’ life.”

Here’s what else Wardlow had to say about conducting youth-sports programs for 800 youngsters ages 3-17:

Fred: What made you choose this career?

Michael: I didn’t choose this career, this career chose me. I went to school originally to be a computer programmer but graduated with a Masters in Educational Leadership. While in school, I worked with the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and the City of Largo Recreation Parks & Arts. While working at those organizations, I realized I could have an enormous impact on young people. I can educate, and be a coach, a father figure, and a role model, while helping kids stay physically fit.

Fred: What’s your biggest pet peeve in youth sports?

Michael: My biggest pet peeve is parents and adults trying to live their sports dreams through their children.

Fred: Whom do you most admire?

Michael: My parents are my heroes. Both are retired educators, so at a young age, I learned the concept of planning, organizing, taking pride in whatever I do, and just being a good person.

Fred: If you were talking to a group of first-year recreation professionals, what three tips would you share to help them be successful in their position?

Michael: Plan, set goals, and make everything you do fun for the young athletes, volunteers, employees, and parents in your programs.

Fred: What was your favorite sport to play growing up?

Michael: Basketball, because of my father. He was a middle- and high-school basketball coach so I developed a love and passion for the game from him.

Fred: What are you most proud of about your program?

Michael: That the young athletes are enjoying learning in a fun environment.                                                   

Fred: What would you like to see more of in your programs?

Michael: More parents volunteering to help with the programs’ growth.

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.