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Definition and nature of the field
There are nearly 300 million Americans today who work, go to school, do tasks to maintain the family (shopping, fixing meals, maintain homes, etc.) and participate in some form of play. On average, Americans spend approximately 4.5 to 5 hours at play or in recreation / leisure activities (those activities that are not required for our survival or subsistence) each day. In the future, Americans are likely to demand more from their free time, and demand more from the government offices, businesses, and agencies that provide opportunities for recreation and leisure.
Americans have a variety of needs, and pursue a variety of leisure activities to satisfy their needs. Americans participate in leisure activities that include fitness, travel, athletic activities, sporting and musical events, performing and visual arts, volunteer community projects, educational classes, museum visits, socializing with friends, and purely appreciating the natural environment.
A variety of organizations and individuals are needed to conduct leisure activities and provide for recreational programming. Leisure opportunities are sought through sources such as government agencies (local, state, or federal), non-profit organizations such as the YMCA /YWCA and scouting, recreation businesses varying from amusement parks and fitness clubs to fishing charters, private clubs such as golf and aquatic clubs; and unique outdoor sites.
Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Services is a broad field and you may have to look in a variety of degree programs. Review departments of Human Resources or Physical Activity. A four-year college degree is advantageous for one to begin a professional career. A local community college can also provide a two-year degree that will prepare a person for leadership positions suitable for a variety of program areas.
In most states, you can find a four-year program in the recreation leisure service field at large or mid-level state institutions. Some academic programs provide specific degree programs that will prepare one in an indirect field. An example is a degree in law enforcement, where one can seek a ranger or law enforcement position at a federal or state level parks department.
The National Recreational and Park Association (NRPA) suggest general guidelines for any recreation / leisure service degree program. It can include courses in recreation leadership and programming, recreation for disabled populations, outdoor recreation, and administration of leisure services. Make sure to have a solid background in general study classes especially in the areas of sociology, psychology, communications, and English.
While in school get involved in the student organization, or “majors” club. The two leading professional organizations (NRPA and AAHPERD / web addresses follow) allow students to get involved at a state or national level. All the organizations listed below sponsor professional level meetings that will help to provide professional preparation and training.
Related work experiences
It is likely that there are as many work related experiences as there are forms of play and recreation. Most of these are based on providing services and leading people in leisure activities. Many young individuals on their way to college have already worked as a lifeguard, camp counselor, or in amusement park entertainment. While studying in a recreation degree program, it is important to gain further work related experience. This may include jobs such as resident assistant in a college dormitory, leadership roles in a student club, and official or activity supervisor in a college intramural department. All serve as an important step in gaining valuable work related experience and preparing you as a leader in the leisure service profession.
Opportunities in recreation and leisure services are varied and numerous. The federal government provides career opportunities in national parks, forests, and other recreation areas. The military hires professionals to lead recreation activities for all of its personnel and families at bases around the world. All fifty states have parks / forest and open space systems. As a result, they seek positions of recreation leaders and specialists, resource managers, and law enforcement officials. Local community recreation and park departments hire recreation professionals with a variety of expertise including sports, aquatics, youth services, senior services, and the arts. Many “not for profit” organizations such as the Y’s, Girl and Boy Scouts, Girls and Boys Clubs, and police athletic leagues offer leadership opportunities in recreation programs, particularly for youth or senior members. There are a variety of private and semi-private clubs that hire managers to operate golf, tennis, or aquatic facilities. If you are interested in outdoor adventure activities like backpacking and canoeing, summer camp employment may also be an avenue to pursue.