Memorable Conversation

It was a random conversation among many that Rance Gaede had that day.

But this particular exchange was incredibly significant, as it was a powerful reminder of the mega-important role volunteer coaches play in kids’ lives.

“I recently had a conversation with one of the participants of our adult-coed softball program,” recalls Gaede, the Athletic Supervisor for the City of Tamarac (Fla.) and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA). “He was watching the game preceding the one in which he would play, and pointed out all of the players that he had coached when they were kids. You could tell by the way he talked about each of them that he was proud of who they had become. It puts a smile on my face because it really drives home the importance of working with our volunteer coaches every day. They have such an important role in our programs—so important that it warrants the time we spend providing them with training and support. Through them we create the experiences that children have in sports today, and it’s up to us to make sure those experiences are positive.”

The city has more than 1,500 youngsters, ages 3 to 17, participating in its programs, along with more than 300 volunteers. Here’s what else Gaede had to say:

Fred: In talking to first-year recreation professionals, what three tips would you share to help them be successful?

Rance: 1. Listen before you speak: When I was beginning my first year as a professional, I was very eager to let others know all that I had learned. Through the years, I’ve learned to be more patient and wait for a parent or coach to get their complete thoughts out before I respond. That usually provides the best experience for both sides!

           2. Plan sports seasons a year in advance. Plan every detail and set real dates for objectives to be met. Adjustments can be made, but without knowing what’s coming, those adjustments can lead to bigger problems.

           3. Write everything down! Sports can get very busy as sometimes seasons will overlap.  Make a list of what you need to accomplish every day and work your way through that list. As with planning, adjustments can be made, but knowing what you face throughout the day can help you prioritize where those adjustments are most beneficial.

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

Rance: I tend to draw from my time as a youth-sports coach when I talk to and prepare volunteer coaches. I was fortunate enough to coach two of my daughters when they were younger, both in recreational sports and travel sports. I realize what mistakes I made and try to help coaches put their role into perspective. I also use those experiences when I talk to parents.  I’ve been in their shoes as well and try to approach them from a position of experience when dealing with situations that arise with their coach, the program, or their children. 

Fred: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to youth sports?

Rance: My biggest pet peeve is coaches who seem to do everything but coach. I’m referring to the coaches who spend more time yelling at officials for making a “wrong” call than coaching their team. Or coaches who yell at kids for making mistakes instead of showing them what went wrong and how to do it better. Coaches should be helping their players learn the sport, teaching them teamwork and modeling respect for the game.

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

Rance: I would like to see more volunteers who are here for the right reasons. I would like to see those who will help teach kids the fundamentals of the sport, which to me are having fun playing, building self-esteem, teaching the value of teamwork, and modeling respect for other players and officials.

Fred: What made you decide to choose this as a career?

Rance: When I went to college, I was going to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. After one class, however, I decided it was not for me. I spent the next two years taking general courses, trying to decide what I wanted to do. I spent those summers at the YMCA working with children at camp. I enjoyed the work so much that I began to look into what careers I could get into with the Y. Once I discovered that the agency offered sports and fitness as well, I was hooked. I knew how much I loved playing sports as a kid, and then as a young adult I enjoyed sharing my experiences and knowledge with kids. It seemed to be a natural fit!

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.