Careers in Recreation: Expanding Horizons

Article excerpt

Recreation has emerged as an immense national industry, providing a wide variety of career opportunities for young men and women. Taking all forms of leisure involvement into account--including sports and games, travel and tourism, hobbies and the arts, entertainment, fitness pursuits, social activities, and outdoor recreation--annual recreation expenditures in the United States reportedly range from the Commerce Department's estimate of over $490 billion (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000, p. 253) to as high as a trillion dollars a year (Stynes, 1993).

While its economic impact is often emphasized, recreation also constitutes an important form of social service in American communities. Thousands of senior centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and other nonprofit agencies address the pressing physical and social needs of individuals and families throughout the nation. Recreation also has significant environmental values linked to the operation of local parks, beaches and nature centers, and the management of distant parks, forests, historic sites, and national monuments.

When recreation first emerged as a field of professional practice, it was considered an outgrowth or specialized aspect of physical education. Programs were often sponsored by schools or voluntary agencies and were primarily geared toward meeting the leisure needs of children and youths through after-school programs, vacation travel, and camping activities. Most professional preparation programs in recreation began in departments or schools of health, physical education, and recreation, and many of these curricula continue to maintain their academic affiliations. However, as school-sponsored recreation declined and the recreation and park movements merged during the second half of the 20th century, the field's identity was transformed.

Public tax-supported agencies--chiefly municipal or county park and recreation departments and commissions--came to be viewed as the heart of the organized recreation movement. Most college curricula were designed to prepare individuals for work in this field, and professional societies, curriculum accreditation and certification standards, textbooks, and other publications were made to reflect the public image of organized recreation service.

At the same time, several factors led to growing diversity in the field of recreation. Although several studies reported that work hours lengthened and discretionary time declined during the 1980s and 1990s (Schor, 1991), other studies contradicted these findings (Scott, 1999). In any case, public involvement in a wide range of leisure pursuits climbed steadily throughout this period.

This was also a period of national economic austerity that compelled budget cutbacks and job freezes in many local and state governments, thereby sharply reducing the number of job opportunities in public agencies for new recreation graduates. As a result, interest grew steadily in such specialized areas of service as therapeutic recreation, armed forces recreation, travel and tourism, and sports management. Many college and university departments of professional preparation responded to these trends by offering new, specialized degree programs aimed at serving a much broader career spectrum. Today's diverse job market in recreation can be seen in Careers in Recreation (American Association for Leisure and Recreation, 2000), which describes no fewer than 25 types of positions, many of them focused on such areas as adventure/risk activities, outdoor and park-based programs, and youth sports.

Today, 10 distinct areas of professional recreation service and employment can be identified (Kraus, Barber, & Shapiro, 2001) and will be described briefly in this article.

1. Public Recreation and Park Agencies. This area continues to be recognized as a leading element in the organized leisure-service field, as it employs hundreds of thousands of leaders and program specialists, facility planners and managers, and numerous other types of professionals. …