More than 32,000 youth athletes play on the fields, rinks and courts of the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. That is a lot of young lives that are influenced by the coaches and parents that volunteer in these local youth sports programs.

Program organizers point to one key tactic the department employs to ensure accountability among the more than 72 youth sports organizations that use its facilities each year: education.

In order for youth sports organizations to hold practices and games on county property, their volunteers must be trained. "All volunteers that interact with children in any capacity must receive the mandatory coach training," says Aileen Henderson, youth sports coordinator for Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department's Youth Athletics is one of five youth sports programs to be named a 2012 Excellence in Youth Sports Award winner. Developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine, the award recognizes programs that are doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities with a focus on providing safe and positive experiences for all participants, including children, parents and coaches.

In conjunction with NAYS programming and the University of South Florida's SMART Institute, Hillsborough County trains approximately 5,500 volunteers and parents each year in their roles and responsibilities in coaching.

One of two approved coach education programs is offered by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association. Over the past year, almost 2,000 coaches from youth sports organizations that use county facilities have been trained through NYSCA, which provides coaches a thorough education on topics such as the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication, child abuse, injury prevention, nutrition and hydration. Coaches also sign the NYSCA Coaches' Code of Ethics, pledging to demonstrate sportsmanship and fair play, provide safe playing situations and use appropriate coaching techniques. "All our youth sports organizations have bylaws requiring higher standards of expectations for all the volunteers," says Henderson. "Each league individually promotes positive coaching techniques."

Additionally, Hillsborough County offers an in-house coach education program that focuses on positive coaching and sportsmanship, as well as awareness topics like bullying, abuse and sports-related injuries, such as concussions. Hillsborough County has worked with Dr. Barbara Morris, director of USF's SMART Institute, to develop concussion education as part of its education requirements following the adoption of Florida's youth athlete concussion bill, which went into effect in July 2012. Says Henderson, "Dr. Morris brings a level of professionalism and information we needed to provide that next level of service and education to those that attend our classes."

In the near future, Hillsborough County plans to revise its current park license agreements that allow youth sports organizations to use its facilities, as well as develop a standard operating procedure manual to accompany the agreement. After these documents are approved by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, the City of Tampa is expected to follow suit, leading to a consistent standard for youth sports organizations in both municipalities, Henderson says.

Story written by Linda Alberts, public relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

The five winners of the 2012 Excellence in Youth Sports Awards, sponsored by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine, are being announced in this space over the next five days. The awards will be presented to program administrators at the Athletic Business Conference & Expo in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 30.