One Of The Biggest Headaches: Handling Protests And Disputes

By Fred Engh

Having been a recreation director for a few years, I remember the dreadful times I had to deal with protests. If you have been asked to be the final word on topics, such as eligibility, then you know what I mean. According to the law of averages, one is never right. And the protest losers will haunt one throughout his or her career as “the person who cost us the championship.” 

I spent many days listening to some of the most ridiculous protests imaginable and finally came up with a rule: Our office would accept all protests with one caveat—a person could submit a protest along with a $100 fee. If the person won the protest, the $100 was returned.

The results? The protests were cut dramatically. And I slept a lot better.

I was curious as to what others did in their programs when it comes to dealing with protests, disputes, and disagreements over league policies. I checked in with a couple of Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSAs), who shared their thoughts on dealing with the dreaded protest:

DeRocke Croom, Athletics Coordinator for the Hampton (Va.) Parks, Recreation & Leisure Services: “In our recreation programs, if you have a protest, you must submit a $100 fee, and that is returned if the protest is upheld. We came up with this because we were getting numerous protests concerning very minor—and to be honest—obsolete issues. It has worked out great! We don’t have as many protests as we had in the past, and as a matter of fact we haven’t had any protests to rule on during this past season.”

Zach Matz, Sports Facilities Coordinator for the City of Peoria (Ariz.): “For the most part, I look at protests and disputes as a learning opportunity and a chance to interact with my customers. There are always a handful of experiences that challenge that mindset.

“Listening to a protest will challenge my self-control, way of thinking, and knowledge of the programs I supervise. There are times when things need to be changed or looked at in a different light. Protests can give me that opportunity. I encourage feedback from my customers. Protests are a form of feedback. That is why I always do my best to document protests. Change may not occur right at that moment, but it could lead to something down the line.

“In my opinion, customers are more inclined to have an adult conversation if it is in person, or if they have a face to go along with the name and voice. If I have an initial discussion via email or phone with an emotional customer, I will offer that customer an opportunity to meet in person. I think that does a few things: It gives the customer time to level their emotions and to come up with a factual argument, as opposed to an emotional one; it gives me time to research the problem, communicate to witnesses, and discuss possible solutions with my team and/or supervisor. That way, I can offer a solution to the customer immediately instead of saying the phrase emotional customers do not like to hear: ’I will get back to you.’

“My way of thinking and the steps that I take are not foolproof, trust me. I have had my share of customers that want nothing to do with a professional conversation. Sometimes they just need to vent. Sometimes they need to go up the ladder as far as it will take them. I do my best to stand my ground and not give in. I always try to meet these types of customers as close to the middle as possible. I can honestly say that only a few of those customers have received everything they wanted. However, those same customers will try their luck again. By that time, I have learned from the previous experience, so I have already made changes to rules, procedures, and/or policies that will stop their protest in their tracks.

“With all of this in mind, I think that imposing a fee on protests would limit the advancement of the program. I am curious to know how many city councils would approve that fee. I believe that it is my job to listen to protests. I completely understand that protests and disputes get old, and most of them are irrational. However, if you listen to enough of them, and I mean truly listen, you should be able to make changes, where possible, to rules and policies that prevent most protests and disputes from happening. All of this is just my personal opinion.”

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.