Dare To Be Different

By John Engh

Growing up, baseball was my sport. I loved everything about the game. And looking back, I have so many wonderful memories involving practices, games, and the friendships I forged with both teammates and opposing players that still resonate all these years later. But I’m lucky that all my sports experiences weren’t tied to just baseball. I tried a bunch of different sports throughout my childhood because I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do so. Sure, some I enjoyed more than others, but I took away something from all of those experiences.


As parents of two kids, my wife and I always made it a priority to expose them to as many different sports and activities as possible. We all know this helps create more well-rounded individuals, beyond simply developing different athletic skills. Plus, we never know what sport may grab a child’s heart and ignite a passion to participate in it for years to come if never nudged to give it a go.

So, the more opportunities that exist for kids to choose from the greater the chances are of hitting the jackpot and having a unique and memorable experience.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy observing the innovative youth-sports programs that recreation agencies are unveiling these days. After all, getting kids’ attention and interest is as challenging as ever with so many options pulling at their time. So if programs are lacking in fun or creativity, kids will be looking elsewhere to fill their days.

Let’s take a look at what some Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSAs) shared about how their departments approach that never-ending challenge of providing high-quality and diverse programming to get kids involved in sports—and keep them coming back:

Wendy Parker, Athletics Director at the City of Arlington (Texas) Parks and Recreation Department: “We offer some things that are just a little bit different, like our Tiny Tots Triathlon. It is geared to that younger age group of 8 and under where they bring out their tricycles or bikes; they’ll run a little bit, and then for the water element we do water slides. I can tell you it’s a battle for Mom and Dad to get them off that slide at the end of the day! There’s a lot going on in our community, so we really have to think of things to do that are going to be outside the box. We definitely hit a homerun with our program philosophy of “Playing is Winning.” In the past 10 years, Arlington has become more competitive in the youth-sports arena. There is nothing wrong with that direction, but our department prefers to capture the other 95 percent that will never receive a college scholarship. We are building the love and passion for the game in hopes that these young players will become adult participants and then coach their kids in our program. That is one of our goals through the “Playing is Winning” design—focus on the participant and a lifetime of sports adventures. We’re also hoping they’ll come back as adults and play in our adult sports leagues. In some of our programs, like our adult flag football, we have two and three generations that are playing in those leagues. So it’s really quite the honor to be able to impact that many generations.”


Lindsey Lancaster, Director of CYS Youth Sports and Fitness at Fort Wainwright in Alaska: “The biggest thing is innovation. So if somebody has an idea that they want to bring to the table, there’s only one way to find out if it’s going to work—we try it. We listen to our parents and our participants, and we just want to make sure that we’re doing what they want; otherwise, they’re not going to come. The weather is a big factor here in Alaska. The temperature goes from 65 degrees below zero in the winter all the way to 90 degrees above in the summer, so with that we try to make the best of our program with that factor. Some of the innovative programs we have done are snowboarding, downhill skiing, fat-tire biking, and snow-shoeing, and we’ll be adding cross-country skiing. In the summer we have fishing and archery. Alaska is not one of the easiest places in which to live—we only have three hours of daylight in the winter and a whole lot of daylight in the summer, so we want to make sure we get the kids out and about with that extreme weather.”

John Engh is executive director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at jengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS Member Organization, visit www.nays.org, email nays@nays.org or call (800) 729-2057.