Finding the Courage to Champion Change in Your Organization | Athletic Business

Finding the Courage to Champion Change in Your Organization

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This article appeared in the September issue of Athletic Business. Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.

Fred Engh is the founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports ( and the International Alliance for Youth Sports (IAYS).Fred Engh is the founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports ( and the International Alliance for Youth Sports (IAYS).

At age 43, I quit my job as a recreation professional. After repeatedly seeing thousands of kids being faced with psychological, emotional and, yes, physical abuse while playing organized sports, I decided I had had enough.

I created what today has become arguably the nation's leading organization focused on making participation in sports a safe, positive and fun experience for millions of children. I, like most recreation professionals, believe in the tremendous value sports can provide in a child's development. To waste that opportunity because of overbearing parents and win-at-all-costs coaches is, and continues to be, a travesty.

Since 1981, hundreds of recreation agencies worldwide have implemented our training programs for administrators, parents, coaches and youths to make their sports experience a positive one. But still we hear and see story after story of abusive parents on their kids' ballfields and courts, and so our work continues.

Creating change can be difficult, especially when talking about the entire culture of youth sports. I'd like to offer some lessons I learned as I struggled with a wife and seven kids to work toward something I believed should be changed. Perhaps these insights might inspire others to take action in their communities to ensure that sports are a positive experience for young people.

Don't be afraid to make a mistake
I've known many people who have had great ideas yet never seem to follow through. Most of the time, it's because they're afraid they will fail. It reminds me of the guy who is interested in a girl but too afraid to ask her for a date because of the possibility of getting turned down. So what do they do? Nothing, and they spend the rest of their life wondering, "What if?"

That's the way it was for me when I quit my secure job with a division of the sports industry. When I told my son's baseball coach, he said, "Fred, there's not a person who knows youth sports that would say that your idea for coaches to be trained isn't a good idea. The problem is, they won't do it."

I was crushed. But then he said, "Then again, if you don't have the courage to make a mistake, then give up the idea." I found the courage, and 3.5 million trained coaches later, I'm glad I didn't give up the idea.

It's better to apologize than ask for permission
I remember hearing a female commander in the Navy stating loud and clear — when asked by a reporter why she was so successful — that if she ever asked her superiors for permission to do certain things, she probably would have been turned down 50 percent of the time. She said most of the time, because she took the chance, many new ideas she had were implemented. Think about it the next time you want to do something that you believe in but feel your boss will turn you down.

Enjoy what you do
Nobody wants to be around a grouch. The most popular people in your office, I contend, are the ones who joke around. They just seem to be happier than the ones who sit and pout and complain about being overworked and underpaid. They're also more productive and more engaged in the day-to-day work. And most of the time the boss notices, so the jovial ones wind up getting the raises or promotions to new positions.

We once hired a woman who always seemed grouchy. It was like she woke up every day mad. One day I asked her, "It seems like you're not happy here. Why?"

She said, "Because I hate kids."

She was looking for a new job that afternoon.

Ninety percent of people are looking for the 10 percent to lead them
Look around in every facet of your life. There always seem to be the same type of people running meetings, managing stores, teaching golf lessons. What group are you in? Are you in the 90 percent bracket, with someone telling you what to do? Or are you in that 10 percent group, telling others what to do?

Which group would you like to be in? I could never live my life by having someone telling me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. I like to be in control of my destiny. How about you?

Fear drives 95 percent of people
One of the greatest sessions I've sat through during my career was a presentation by educational psychologist Dr. Orv Owens. Dr. Owens' philosophy was that 95 percent of us are fear-driven from the day we are born.

And those other five percent? According to Dr. Owens, a mere five percent of us are driven by love. Everything that we do in life is not motivated by fear, but more so to help humanity.

How many of the things I mentioned are motivated by fear? There's the fear of being rejected, fear of what others will think, fear of losing, fear to take the next step, fear of not thinking you can do it, fear of being different. I wasn't crazy about it when I heard Dr. Owens' philosophy, but the more I have watched people over the past 30 years, the more I'm convinced he is right.

Now, of all the above insights I've shared with you, this last one is the one that has intrigued me — and frustrated me — the most throughout my career. I have asked myself hundreds of times why so many communities let fear prevent them from demanding that those organizations that use their facilities must live up to the National Standards for Youth Sports. These standards were developed by many of the nation's leading experts in the field of recreational sports for youths.

They include guidelines that, when implemented, can change the culture of abuse by parents — who act as league administrators and coaches or fill the stands as spectators — on ballfields and courts in their respective communities. They can make sports for children a positive, safe and fun experience instead of the abusive culture we see so often today.

In many of these communities, fear controls those who provide facilities for organized youth sports programs. In brief, they don't run youth sports; youth sports run them. They sit back and watch abuses occur daily in every form — by parents who envision their child as the next superstar and by coaches who teach children that winning at all costs is acceptable, thus setting a lifetime example for one to cheat throughout life.

To those who agree, I say follow the lead of the hundreds of other wonderful youth sports organizations nationwide that have embraced these standards and are true leaders in youth sports today. Ask yourself, "If they overcame the fear, then why can't we?"

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Finding the courage to lead the charge for change in youth sports"


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