Becoming Good Sports: Professionals Need to Exercise Their Power by Helping Community Youth Develop through Parks and Recreation

Article excerpt

The park and recreation profession has tremendous power. It has the power to help people grow and develop in very positive ways. However, this power comes with a price--responsibility. The profession is responsible for utilizing this power to better the lives of the citizens it serves.

People also have tremendous power in choosing to do something or be somewhere. They recreate because it is fun, enjoyable, relaxing and fulfilling. Not all human service professions have this advantage.

This notwithstanding, the profession must position itself to fully address this opportunity and responsibility. We can only maximize this power, if we align ourselves with issues and concerns that are significant to our community members. "We have a responsibility as community leaders and recreation professionals to give our citizens the best programs possible, and give them the opportunity to participate in a safe, healthy, fun and learning filled environment," says Recreation Coordinator Chris Patterson from West Des Moines, Iowa.

For example, issues facing our youth today and the overall development of youth are dominant concerns of any community in America. Youth development is a rallying issue for every citizen, public servant and corporation. The recreation profession, to make the best use of its innate potential, should align itself with the youth development movement.

Sports and recreation programs can have a positive physical and emotional impact, and be a fun and engaging way for children and youth to learn important lessons about life.

Researchers have found that participating in sports can foster in children and youth responsible social behaviors and greater academic success. Many would say we are already doing this, and in some cases this is true. However, for the profession to fully reach its potential in addressing youth issues and to fully exercise its power, it must change some of its locus and strategies.

Youth Development

Youth development can be defined in many ways. The National Collaborative for Youth (1998) defines youth development as:

   "a process [that] prepares young people
   to meet the challenges of adolescence
   and adulthood through a coordinated,
   progressive series of activities and
   experiences, which help them to become
   socially, morally, emotionally, physically
   and cognitively competent. Positive
   youth development addresses the
   broader developmental needs of youth,
   in contrast to deficit-based models [that]
   focus solely on youth problems."

This definition has several points that are consistent with the strengths of the profession. First, it focuses on building the positive assets of youth rather than just focusing on youth deficits or problems. By definition, recreation involves positive experiences; therefore, developing assets or strengths of youth is most appropriate.

Second, the definition recognizes that development is a process. Again, the impact of recreation materializes from long-term participation and exposure. There is no quick fix in recreation--rather it is the process of change that comes over extended and consistent positive participation.

Park and recreation professionals can also commit to long-term change through sports. "We truly understand the values and broad-picture role that youth sports can play in a person's life. We are not going to be here for one season and gone another. Our careers and the profession have the level of resources, commitment and training to get the job done. We often don't feel the pressures of a single coach or parent so we can see the bigger picture of improving sports for youth," says Ann-Marie Carravallah, recreation coordinator for Canton, Mich.

Third, the definition gives clarity to the areas of youth development, and thus provides direction for the profession. All areas of youth development can be and should be addressed through recreation experiences and environments. …