Nature of the Profession
The recreation and leisure services field is associated with enhancing the quality of life for participants. The goals and outcomes associated with programs, facilities, and services are designed to improve individuals’ lives as well as enhance communities in a variety of ways. For these reasons, a career in recreation and leisure services is a career in a human services profession.
Human Services Profession
Parks and recreation services is a human services profession. The human services field has the objective of meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base, focusing on prevention and remediation of problems and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of those they serve. Human services professions are also seen as promoting improved service delivery systems not only by addressing the quality of direct services but also by seeking to improve accessibility, accountability, and coordination among professionals and agencies in service delivery (National Organization for Human Services, n.d.). Recreation and leisure services agencies certainly fit this profile. Whether the service population is interested in youth programs, a cruise around the world, a game of tennis, camping, or rehabilitation services, our field is about improving people’s lives through recreation and leisure. So, what does that mean for you?
Recreation and leisure services professionals provide numerous services to the public in a variety of ways. Professionals may be direct service providers, information providers, or advocates, or they may take on more of a facilitator or educator role in the provision of services (Henderson, Bialeschki, et al., 2001). A direct provider of services is a professional who is responsible for a program from start to finish and leads the participants through the program. In other words, the direct provider controls the program, and participants are responsible for little more than participating in the program. An example would be a youth soccer league.
A professional who is serving as an information provider focuses on facilitating engagement in recreation by serving as a conduit through which information about opportunities available in the community can flow. In addition, this service delivery method may include making direct referrals to specific programs or people so that the agency can meet the needs of community members, both recreational and otherwise. No single person or agency can provide everything that a community wishes to receive in terms of recreation. Therefore, an agency that is committed to providing information about other services not provided by its own staff is providing a needed service to the community, although it is not engaged in direct service provision.
A third way that professionals serve their publics is by taking on the role of an advocate. An advocate is a professional who recognizes an injustice that prevents community members from engaging in recreation and leisure services. For example, advocating for people with disabilities is just one role that professionals in recreation and leisure may play. Although the information referral approach would provide people with disabilities information about activities available to them, it may not recognize the significant barriers to participation beyond lack of knowledge about available opportunities. The advocate would work to gain a better understanding of these barriers and try to help that group overcome the barriers. Therefore, if the barrier to participation in wheelchair sport was the cost of a wheelchair sport chair, an advocate might work with local agencies or funders to provide those chairs for people with disabilities so that they could increase their participation in recreation and leisure programs.
The final type of service provision is that of a facilitator or educator. This type of professional facilitates participants’ engagement in leisure in such a way that they are responsible for many of their own leisure experiences. The provision of leisure education is an excellent example of this type of service delivery. A practitioner who can improve the public’s attitudes, knowledge, skills, and awareness toward leisure provides the necessary components for community members to meet their leisure needs on their own outside the context of programs offered by direct service providers (Henderson et al., 2001).
All four of these types of services can be found in the numerous sectors of service provision in the recreation and leisure services profession. From travel and tourism to outdoor recreation to therapeutic recreation, all recreation agencies will likely incorporate direct service provision, information referral, advocacy, and enabling services (Murphy, Niepoth, Jamieson, & Williams, 1991). For example, the nonprofit sector of the field, which includes agencies like the YMCA, is well known for its direct service provision, in which professionals such as afterschool program directors and youth sports coordinators work directly with participants. But the same sports coordinator may also serve as an information provider if someone is looking for a youth swim team and the agency itself does not offer one. The sports coordinator may be able to provide parents with information about the swim team that the parks and recreation department offers down the road. The result is the same whether the YMCA or the parks and recreation agency offers a swim team—the child gets to swim. The role played by the professional, however, differs based on circumstances. Likewise, a front-desk manager at a hotel may serve the role of information referral provider when she or he directs guests to restaurants in town. On the other hand, a hotel staff member may play the role of an advocate if she or he, after learning from guests that a local attraction is not easily accessible for people in wheelchairs, tries to persuade the attraction to make changes. Making the necessary changes would likely be in the best business interest of the attraction and would provide increased leisure opportunities for people who use wheelchairs. A wide variety of employment opportunities is available in the recreation and leisure services profession. Regardless of the type of position that a new professional is interested in, he or she should be prepared to serve the public in many ways to provide leisure and recreation opportunities.