Take It Day By Day

As one might imagine, overseeing a youth-sports program that caters to more than 6,000 children, ranging from 3 to 18 years old, requires having a solid foundation of policies in place–and the courage to stick to them.

Karen Puskas

Karen Puskas, program manager for the town of Westport in Connecticut, certainly understands the importance of this approach.

It’s a task that poses a variety of challenges too, since the majority of the program’s 11 sports are conducted with local providers, such as the Westport Little League, Westport Soccer Association, and the Westport Police Athletic League.

“All need to use town facilities for their programs so they must abide by the rules, regulations, and policies that we set forth,” Puskas says. “We work with each provider to make sure the community’s needs are being met at an affordable price, and that a safe, positive experience is being made available to the children.”

Here’s what else Karen had to share regarding the good and the not-so-good of overseeing such a large program:

What is the best idea your staff has come up with, and how has it impacted your programs?

We all know how overscheduled many children can be with several activities going on daily. It can cause havoc when parents continually call in to say their child cannot practice on the day assigned because it conflicts with another activity. As a result, children are constantly moved around, making trades on teams and so on, and it becomes very involved when dealing with a couple of thousand children.

My staff decided the best way to combat this problem was to ask parents up front to indicate one day that would not be good for their child to practice. Of course, many parents could offer several, but we assured them that their child would not be assigned to a team that practiced on that day.

It has worked out great, and while it was more work on our part to put together, it saved us hours upon hours of work in the end because we didn’t have to keep rescheduling. We knew initially when children could practice and made sure they were assigned to a team that was compatible.

That simple question has enabled us to get more children involved in our youth-sports programs, and has attracted more volunteers to coach. It has been a win-win for everyone.

What was your worst day on the job?

Sitting at my computer on September 11, 2001, I went “blind” when the planes crashed into the twin towers, and then I had to listen to the events of the day on a transistor radio. The phones were constantly ringing as parents scrambled to pull their kids out of school and programs in order to get them home, while 500 yards outside my office window, I could see the smoke from the attack over the horizon on Long Island Sound.

What is the biggest mistake you have seen a volunteer coach make, and how was that situation handled?

A coach was continually yelling at his own 9-year-old son during games. His son finally broke down and cried on the bench. His mother came from the stands and took him out, giving her husband a stern and annoyed look. The entire gym went silent as the coach stood there, totally embarrassed.

My staff alerted me to what had happened, and I spent some time speaking with the coach after the game. Like many parents who coach their own kids, he didn’t realize how tough he was on his own child, embarrassing him in front of his friends. The father said he expected more from his child, and was disappointed when his performance didn’t meet expectations.

We had a good talk about 9-year-old sports, what our purpose was as coaches and parents, and how we as adults need to lower our expectations and realize it is all about the kids.

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