This is going to leave a mark

Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

Aerial drone view of a huge riverbed, Iceland

Like the 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the current COVID-19 pandemic will jar our senses and society in ways we haven’t anticipated.

The coming shift in our collective psyche is not yet clear in anyone’s cloudy crystal ball, but is likely to be profoundly and broadly pervasive.

But even as park and recreation professionals scramble to respond to the abrupt demands of cancelling and rescheduling programs and events, sanitizing and maintaining facilities, establishing and enforcing new protocols—while remaining on frontline public service duty in food distribution, coping and cognitive therapies, and many other community interactions and enrichments—we must also invest in some leadership forethought to our futures. Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

What will all this mean to our profession when we return (yet again!) to a new normal?

I’m no prophet (nor even a mediocre soothsayer), but it’s likely the long-term impacts of surviving the worldwide pandemic will rock our world socially, economically, environmentally, relationally, psychologically—in short, fundamentally.

And with this disruptive shift, comes a series of thought-provoking considerations to re-establishing our community value and our professional accountability. Among them:

●  How do we navigate the inherent conflicts between social distancing and community engagement?
●  How do we maintain sanitary outdoor play surfaces, and encourage trust in our best practices?
●  What adjustments do we make to our maximum load capacities in aquatic centers and meeting spaces?
●  How do we balance park/program equity with new fiscal realities and responsibilities?
●  How can we leverage increased interest in personal health for more interaction in nature?
●  How can we lessen dependence on governmental funding and operate more entrepreneurially?
●  How do we better assist our most vulnerable populations?
●  How do cancelled school sessions create a new niche we can fill in our summer camps?
●  What new partnerships can we create to build more healthful and resilient neighborhoods?
●  What new protocols need to be established in our recreation centers, swimming pools, children’s services, large-group events, fitness programs, playgrounds, concessions, trails, visitor centers, and other public facilities?

Granted, not all of these questions are newly arriving with a post-pandemic world, but if we practitioners are to remain relevant and, indeed, grow our industry’s uniquely influential role in the public good in its aftermath, we can no longer kick these proverbial cans further down the road.

Instead, I suggest embracing a new metaphor for a preferred future.

With the onset of the pandemic, thousands of park and recreation agencies suddenly have to deal with new, yet simultaneously similar challenges. Our many responses are like the myriad of rivulets produced by a flooding rainstorm. They’re trickling everywhere at once, exploring ways of forward passage, but ultimately leading in the same downslope direction. If we will share our new ideas, our innovative procedures, our lessons from failures and successes; our thousands of earnest rivulets will coalesce to braided stream flows that, just a little bit further on, will produce a stronger, broader channel of unified best-practice standards and indispensable public services, restoring and refreshing us all.

Please share your questions, suggestions and experiences with your peers in the PRPS companion Facebook page, What’s Up P+R?! As we gather resources and can offer authoritative guidance, we will post them on the PRPS Recreation and Park COVID-19 Resources webpage for all to benefit.

During the coming weeks, PRPS will be hosting free Virtual Roundtables (Parks & Recreation – Surviving the Covid Crisis) via Zoom to provide a networking platform for members to share issues and brainstorm about how to move forward during this stressful time. Individual Roundtable topics include Aquatics, Maintenance, Programs/Events/Summer Camp, Leadership/Planning, Therapeutic Recreation, and Urban Recreation.

And join the fluid movement forward!

Talkin’ Bout My Generation!

What is Age Diversity?

Age Diversity is defined as the ability of an organization to accept people of various age categories within the organizations’ business environment. The ability to manage both the group of people and merge them in a single working environment. Age Diversity is a hot topic in today’s business environment as we currently have more generations in the workplace than ever before. However, age diversity tends to be less focused on than gender and race diversity. While age and gender diversity are important, age diversity is another equally important piece of the puzzle.

As many as 5 generations represent today’s workforce.

Silent/Greatest Generation: Born between 1925 to 1945

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 to 1964

Generation X: Born between 1965 to 1980

Generation Y (Millennials): 1981 to 1995

Generation Z (IGen): 1996 and later

Various trends lead to why today’s workforce is represented by so many generations. 1.) People are working longer since they are healthier and living longer. 2.) Many Silent Generation or Baby Boomers are choosing to work because they want to or are not financially in a position to retire. 3.) Some Baby Boomers are supporting Millennial children still living at home in their 20’s and 30’s.

What are Advantages of Age Diversity?

Age diversity improves performance and production. Productivity in both older and younger workers is higher in companies with mixed-age work teams. Age diversity within work teams is positively related to performance when groups are involved in complex decision-making tasks.

Age diversity can help prevent employee turnover. Workers who are 55 and over contribute to lower turnover, as they are loyal workers who typically stay in their jobs longer than younger employees. Employers gain lower turnover costs and more skilled, experienced employees.

Age diversity drives innovation. Workers bring different experiences, styles, expectations, and perspectives. These differences become a source of strength and innovation when addressed and managed the right way. The bottom line is that the most diverse organizations are usually the most innovative.

What are Disadvantages or Challenges of Age Diversity?

Lack of mutual interests, lack of communication, and egoistic approach because of the age difference. For example, a single issue may have different ways of approaching a solution. The problem rises when people stick to their decision and are not willing to communicate and work together to compromise their ideas for a solution. In many cases these problems arise due to ego and less teamwork. People of different age groups have a mindset of why they have to bend for people who are of not up to their standards. When a manager is younger in age due to his education, senior employees might react due to level of experience. Another miscommunication is language and slang. Whereas one generation may understand a certain slang, another generation may not.

Resistance of adopting a new culture. There are employees who do not want to change their working style even in a new environment. Some refuse to accept that technology is taking over, especially when a new system is taught by a younger generation.

Forming groups within teams. Employees of the same team may be more comfortable with people of the same age due to language, religion, or social status.

Not very comfortable with each others attitudes or behavior. It is common human nature that people will go along with people of their beliefs, opinions or nature. We also see this with same gender.

Employees attach themselves to a particular style and there is no social mingling. We tend to see this with employees of different departments. Due to this employees might miss out on educational experiences with exposure to different parts of the business.


A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to organizations. Respecting individual differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge and increasing work productivity. Diversity management benefits associates by creating a fair and safe environment where everyone has access to opportunities and challenges. Management tools in a diverse workforce should be used to educate everyone about diversity and its issues, including laws and regulations. Most workplaces are made up of diverse cultures, so organizations need to learn how to adapt to be successful. But not all companies focus on inclusion as well as diversity. Inclusion goes beyond the identification of differences by encouraging a work environment that allows people to be who they are and to feel safe and respected. Employees will thrive only if they feel truly valued and included in the long-term strategy and day-to-day operations of their organization. Diversity and inclusion are essential to the health of any enterprise because they lead to greater engagement, teamwork, performance and innovation by workers.

Taking a trip inside the mind of your local officials

As much as we wish for it, there’s simply not enough money to do everything we would like to do in parks and recreation.  Still, we do our best by being resourceful with existing dollars, finding new ways to save, partnering to increase efficiencies, and advocating for officials to make favorable budget decisions.  Elected and appointed officials dictate the slice of our budget pie and can approve or deny policies to support our funding and cost-saving initiatives.  Given this reality, what would improve the odds of favorable budgetary and policy decisions from these officials?

The National Recreation and Park Association commissioned a study which sought to better understand local officials’ priorities, attitudes, and intentions regarding their local communities and their budgetary decisions.  Full disclosure – I was principal investigator of that study.

While there are several study take-aways, one comparison particularly stands out… those conditions or factors which relate to greater funding allocations among local officials.  We found officials said they would allocate more of their budget to parks and recreation if they: (a) personally used them, (b) perceived them to be of poor quality, and (c) if they believed them to be important to the local community.  OK, then what would make parks and recreation more important to local officials? Here, we found parks and recreation was perceived as more important when: (a) it was perceived to address important community issues, (b) when the public was perceived to very vocal in their support of parks and recreation, and (c) when there was an excellent relationship between the local official and park and recreation director.

How might these findings shape our work?  The first implication is to figure out what officials think is important to their office and to the community.  From there, provide compelling evidence on how your parks and recreation activities contribute to these important issues – you should use both data and stories to make your case.  My colleague at the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society, Niki Tourscher, suggests we first find out what parks and recreation really means to your local officials and, if it’s a particularly narrow view, expand your conversation to explain the many other facets and benefits of parks and recreation, particularly how it connects to their priorities.

Second, do your best to establish positive working relationships with your local officials.  Greg Weitzel, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Las Vegas, highly recommends we read and apply lessons from the classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie to improve relationships with your officials. Recognize, however, you’re not going to win over everyone.  Finally, it goes without saying that you should let the community be your voice – work toward a strong volunteer and advocacy base who can advocate to local officials on your behalf.  For more information our findings, check out our infographic here:

Finally, let’s hear from you… What suggestions do you have for to work effectively with local officials?

Recreation and re-creation

LL 58 recreation re-creationRun with this idea: The greater our connection to nature, the healthier and happier we are.

And while we may know that (and promote that, and facilitate that), as recreation and park professionals, we also need to practice that!

According to accumulating research, time spent in green outdoor spaces by children fosters creative play and relieves attention deficit disorders. Among adults, the rejuvenation derived from such outdoor pursuits as trailing a tiny ball through the byways of a golf course—or the hours teasing trout with an artificial fly—are well known. Aerobic activities of jogging, walking, and swimming contribute directly to our physical health. But perhaps surprisingly, studies show that the amazing therapeutic benefit of the outdoors extends even to office-bound cubicle workers with a mere view of trees, shrubbery or large lawns—who experience less frustration and stress than their deprived co-workers!

Time was that all our outdoor activities were subsistence-based. The chores of farming, gardening, hunting, and fishing produced food; walking, snowshoeing, skiing, and horseback riding were for necessary traveling. As such, the inherent benefits of interactions with nature were incorporated into our basic lifestyles.

These days, however, such interactions are usually not programmed into our electronic task minders. Recreation—even for recreation professionals—is often crammed into overly-busy days off, and the concept of outdoor leisure for conscientious workers (your users, clients, and customers) is considered naively quaint. Yet getting out there is neither the unproductive time nor the inconvenience it may seem.

The creative soul mates of recreation and re-creation pursue the same worthy goal. By refreshing both mind and body in invigorating diversions (recreating) you are also casting yourself into a new and improved you (re-creating). Such dual exercise is crucial because our jobs often trample a never-ending, mind-numbing, body-crushing, and sometimes soul-dimming domain. Without recreation/re-creation, the weary world just wears us out.

So it’s not an option if we’re truly interested in success. Our highest and best functions—physically, intellectually, psychologically, socially, professionally, financially, and spiritually—can only be achieved and maintained by regular, refreshing, and stimulating personal makeovers. Bring it on!

As a leader in your profession, however, you must concern yourself with more than just Number One. (Selfishness is not only irresponsible, it’s counterproductive!) Look for ways to create a positive learning and sharing environment among your staff, board members, stakeholders, and the public you serve. Organizing occasional fun, educational, and team-building activities help to create that kind of learning atmosphere while strengthening team bonds and individual commitments. And if you can get everyone outside while you’re at it, the healthful benefits multiply for all!

Real leadership is not measured by position or rank, nor in accumulated honors and awards, a corner office, or a corner on the market. It is found in the number of the times we’ve tried, failed, adapted and re-tried; the people we’ve encouraged and uplifted; the challenges encountered and overcome together; and the healthy, productive balance in recreating and re-creating.

Now get out! Refresh. Create. Lead. Succeed.

The Black and Gold(en) Rule

Recently I attended a training on workplace harassment. While I was familiar with most of the “do’s and don’ts” I was surprised to find out that I’m now in a protected age range. (Look ma’, I made it!) Fear not, I don’t plan to discuss the merits of a 40ish year old being age protected. As I’m still in the beginning stage of my ascent up 40 mountain, I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced that on a personal level.

As happens when I’m presented with something new, I try to look at all sides, to include the inverse. This rabbit hole dive, led me to think about all the young people we employee and how vital they are to our seasonal operations. Perhaps it was recently reading Kristin’s blog last week, or the seasonal staff that are beginning to trickle in the office to say hi while they’re home from break. How do seasoned supervisors and co-workers treat new-to-the workforce or less experienced young people?

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins

It reminded me of something I heard last summer.  During the Stanley Cup playoff run, Zedeno Chara, the 42 year old captain of the Boston Bruins, was asked about some of the younger Bruins. He responded,

“If I can help them in any way I’d love to. Age doesn’t really separate the conversations or the personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time.

We are treating everybody the same way no matter if somebody is 18, or 40, or somebody has 1,000 games or is playing in their first game. We treat everybody with respect in the same way as everybody else in the locker room. I’ve said it many times. Since a very young age, I didn’t like the separation in a team between young players and older players, [or] players who have accomplished something or players that are just coming into the league. I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They are our teammates. I just don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team regardless of the age, or accomplishments. We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”

Big Z’s advice is spot on. There’s so much good stuff in there.  The word he uses multiple times is “respect.” How we treat each other is something I’ve always believed to be of major value, not just in our profession, but I think it’s pretty safe to say is a universal advantage. We can’t treat our teenage staff or young adults any differently than anyone else.

Talk with them like you would talk to your closest peer with 20+ years experience. Notice I said “with” and not “to?” There are two parts to talking with someone, the talking part, and the LISTENING part. Listening to your young staff is far more valuable than droning on about the “good old days.” More often than not, you will come away with a better understanding of that person, or maybe you’ll learn something yourself.

Be patient as you train them and give them the tools needed to succeed. Try to remember when you didn’t have “all the answers.” Be an example through your actions and show them the work ethic you needed to get where you are. Treating them kindly, fairly, yet still with high expectations and clearly defined goals will provide opportunities for a more productive team and healthier work force.

Putting the HUMAN Back in Leadership

2019 Carlisle Community Pool Management and Lifeguard Staff

We are all born into this life with the same perspective, the HUMAN perspective.  We all want the same things, to feel connected and cared for, wherever we are in life, and that includes our time at work.  I hope that your perception, at least at some point in your life up to now, was formed with love, and not only receiving but also giving love.  Maybe up to this point, you haven’t really learned how to show someone that you care about him or her.  You might think “Well sure, I say I love you to my family, but I can’t do that with my employees, so what do you want me to do?” My hope is that this article will help you learn how you can show that you care about your team. If you are already showing lots of love to your crew, this article will provide you with some good reminders to help keep your team feeling valued, appreciated, connected and in turn are productive in their work.

To keep the HUMAN perspective will take a conscious effort every day and you will probably need some help along the way.  You can do research and read books on communication, mindfulness, relationships and leadership; and learn even more by attending workshops and conferences.  I have developed an easy acronym to help guide your way back to putting the HUMAN back in your leadership.

H – Be HELPFUL.  Answer questions and offer assistance to your team.  Communicate.  However, before you speak ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, and is it helpful.

U – UNDERSTAND your team.  Ask questions and listen to understand.  Find out what drives them. 

M – Create MEANINGFUL connections with your team.  Inquire about their personal life.  Send a thank you text for all their hard work lately.  Make them a card for their work anniversary.

A – ACKNOWLEDGE and celebrate accomplishments, and ACKNOWLEDGE mistakes as lessons, not only in your team but for yourself as well.

N – NEVER stop caring.  Be considerate, empathetic and encouraging.

Remember that your perspective changes over time, mainly by the people who influence your life like family and friends, your experiences, and your environment – like home, school, church, and work.  Many of these factors also change over time.  All of a sudden, you may have forgotten that we are all HUMAN.  You may be caught up in the hustle and bustle of work.  Your once open mind narrows, and you begin to harden and stop leading with your heart.  For example, you might have started limiting communication with certain team members or realize you have only been acknowledging negative things with a certain employee lately.

If those examples don’t sound like you, I am sure you have either had or heard of the boss who never said they were sorry or even talked about their mess-ups, never celebrated those huge projects you worked so hard on, or never really listened.  I have listed a few examples of a leader with poor judgement, unfortunately, there are many of these cases, and nonetheless I think you get the picture.  

Most of the time, those bad bosses never let their pride or their ego down, to lead with their heart.  In the moment, they care more about being “right” than being considerate, they’re more focused on work than the problems someone else might be facing or they are just not brave enough to be vulnerable with their own lives.  If they were, they would show you that underneath it all, they really do care.

If you are ashamed to admit it, and you have been “that person” lately, it is never too late to start showing that you care about your team.  We all have bad days; where we haven’t been able to see past our noses, so don’t be too hard on yourself.  Your team is ready to feel connected and cared for.  However, if you don’t start to treat them as HUMANS, they will go work somewhere else, maybe even sabotage your job or if nothing else, they will certainly bring down the rest of the team.  

You might read all this and think, “well there’s work to be done and I don’t have time to chat or celebrate every project.”  Showing that you care doesn’t mean chatting the day away or celebrating every little thing.  But just a quick “How’s your mom doing today?” or ask them “How do you feel about doing that report you submitted last week?”. Just by inquiring (personal or work related), will show them that you care. Questions = Caring (in most cases and especially if you’re listening to UNDERSTAND, not just to respond). Remember that if you don’t ACKNOWLEDGE your team’s hard work, they may not put in as much effort next time.  

You might think showing that you care, means letting things slide or allowing people to do less than what is expected of them.  What I really mean is that you need to think before you speak so you are respectful, ask questions and work to understand the situation and your team.  These tips on communicating are really the first steps to creating a MEANINGFUL connection and normally allow opportunity for you to be HELPFUL.  Then you can build that connection through acknowledgement.  But remember most importantly, NEVER stop caring about those you work with.  You are capable of all of this and together, we can put the HUMAN back in leadership. 

Brene Brown has a new book “Dare to Lead” where you can learn more about “Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts…Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work”. 

Parks & Recreation in the Plastic Age

As humans, we have lived through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, but now have unofficially entered the Plastic Age.  Unfortunately, because plastics are so resistant to decomposition, archaeologists may be studying all of the water bottles, dental floss and disposable diapers that we leave behind.  

Our use of plastic can have a negative local and global impact as evidence by this albatross’ consumption of many small bits of plastic.

We know plastics are everywhere, but how prevalent is it in the parks & recreation world?  Probably more widespread than you realize. The majority of your equipment and tools are primarily made of plastics or have elements of plastic in them.  Your programs?  Many of them rely heavily on a single-use plastic items.  Events?  I’ll just say balloons and bottles of water.  What about in your parks?  Check your trash & recycling cans and the edges of your woods because I’m sure you’ll find evidence of visitors bringing and leaving items behind.  

There is no doubt that plastics aren’t going away, but much like naturalizing our neighborhood parks, the parks & recreation field has an opportunity to lead by example and reduce its use of plastics for the betterment of everyone.  At the same time, this approach could save your department money.  

Simple ways to get started:

  • Buy high quality, commercial grade tools and supplies to reduce the frequency of breaking and needing to be replaced.
  • Borrow instead of buy.  Reach out to departments in your area and see if they have what you may need for that one-time use.  
  • Attempt fixing an item instead of just tossing it.  Some employees may like the challenge of making the repair and it shows you value reuse.   
  • Instead of cheap, plastic giveaway items, focus on bettering “the experience” of your participants at your events and avoid those items all together.  Those participants will remember what they did and felt well after that item has been thrown away.  
  • Avoid working with instructors that offer programs that rely on kits with excessive waste.  
  • Provide a cooler of water and encourage BYOB (bottle) at your park clean-up events.
  • Strive for at least one waste-free event a year.  Promote it as that and solicit the community for ideas of how to achieve that status. 
  • Install bottle refilling stations at your most popular parks and don’t forget to publicize it.
  • Consider and purchase products that are made of plastic alternatives such as hemp, paper or bamboo.  

While we each have the pleasure of hosting thousands of people a year at our parks, programs and events, we also have an obligation to do so in a way that shows thoughtfulness towards our environment and lessens our impact as much as possible.