A Father's Influence

Ricci Tucker played almost every sport possible growing up. And what made those experiences rewarding—and incredibly memorable—was his dad’s involvement.

“All the years I was growing up and played youth sports, he was always my coach,” says Tucker, the Sports and Special Services Director for the Winfield (Kan.) Recreation Commission and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator. “He was always there helping me be the best that I could be in whatever I was doing. He was tough but fair, and he never made it about wins and losses or the final score. It was always about getting better and becoming the type of teammate that helped the team get better.”

Tucker never let go of that team-first mentality, which has enabled him to excel, thrive, and be a difference maker for youngsters participating in Winfield’s sports programs. 

“I really have enjoyed my work within our organization,” he says. “I have a great group of co-workers that have taught me a lot about our profession. I enjoy the fact that I get to work within a community that I grew up in and have lived in most of my life; to see what the recreation culture is today compared to what it was back when I was a youth is amazing to me, and I think it’s a credit to the community and staff that I get to work with every single day.”

Here’s what else Tucker shared about administering youth-sports programs:

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

Ricci: Participation! At a young age, kids should try to play everything they possibly can so they can figure out what they like to play, what they are good at, and, most importantly, what they enjoy. I feel that youth-sports leagues across the country are losing kids at a young age because they are being pushed to be more competitive and to specialize in one specific sport.

Fred: What are three tips you would share with first-year recreation professionals to help them succeed in their position?

Ricci: First, I would tell them the best thing they can do is work with and listen to others around them. Take advice from others, whether other staff members in the office or parents of participants in the sports leagues; this is a profession they can’t be successful at doing all by themselves. It takes teamwork. Second, I would tell them they need to create an environment that is fun for everyone involved. If the kids aren’t having fun, it is hard to have successful leagues and activities. And third, I would tell them to enjoy what they are doing, and at times take a step back and watch the kids have fun. The kids will really make all they do worthwhile.

Fred: Why did you choose this career?

Ricci: Growing up, I always wanted to work around sports and athletics. I participated in all sports and activities offered by the local recreation center and had lots of fun. I remember several of my former coaches and instructors and always thought it would be fun to work with our area youth.

Fred: Who is your favorite professional athlete?

Ricci: Being a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, I would have to say my favorite is Chipper Jones. He was always fun to watch, always seemed to do things the right way, and had great leadership qualities. He is, in my opinion, the perfect example of a role model.

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

Ricci: I would have to say how youth sports nationwide are becoming so competitive, and the mentality of win-at-all-costs is growing rapidly. I hear and read all the time about teams with players as young as 7 to 10 years of age playing 60-plus games a summer. I feel this is causing burnout at a young age, and kids may not want to play when they reach high-school age.

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.