Lessons from the Rink

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

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Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.

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How to Knit Together a Public Meeting

knitblogimageProductive public meetings are a project, with a process and a pattern, much like knitting a sweater. And while many of you may not be able to knit or understand the basics involved in knitting, you do understand the threads and complicated patterns involved in producing an effective and efficient public meeting. Yet, no matter how well you understand those processes, meetings can still get out of hand if not managed properly. Through my years as both a meeting attendee and as a meeting Chair, I have found the following tips helpful when knitting my meetings together…

1.  Set meeting expectations and stick to them. At the start of the meeting, set ground rules (ex. five-minute public comment limit, etc.). This is especially important during meetings with hot-topic agenda items that bring large audiences. This is critical to maintaining decorum and providing fair treatment to all who want to be heard.

2.  Be respectful. Be open to the opinions of others. You do not have to agree with them, but you must allow them to speak their mind and share that opinion. It is not a matter of right or wrong, it is simply looking at it from a different point of view.

3.  Silence cell phones. Think of it like the movies, no one wants an important discussion to be interrupted mid-sentence by an annoying ringing or vibrating.

4.  Only one person speaks at a time. Do not allow a meeting to get out of control, no matter how hot the topic may be. If there is a microphone or podium, this issue is more easily controlled. However, for smaller meetings, you must be direct and correct others who start to interrupt or talk over other attendees.

5.  Be brief, but only make your point once. When making a point, be clear concise and to the point. Encourage others to do the same.

6.  No sidebar conservations. Try to eliminate unnecessary background noise and tension created through sidebar conversations, not only are they disrespectful, but often they lead to misinformation being spread and meetings go longer trying to correct that information. Refer back to point 4 to address this issue and be direct, asking meeting attendees to hold side conversations until after the meeting.

For many of us, public meetings are a systematic occurrence. We all know how unpleasant they can be, but with the right best management practices, they don’t have to be. They can run smoother, be shorter, and more effective!

As an employee, you may not have a say in how a meeting is run but you can work with your elected officials, board members, and volunteer committees by providing training in meeting facilitation techniques. Take time to work with others with tips like the ones mentioned above and see how it works for your meetings. If you have other pointers to share with your peers, do it! Most of all be patient, be respectful, and be a leader!

As a knitter, it is easy for me to see the parallels between public meetings and knitting projects, and many of the tips above apply to both. I always set expectations at the beginning of a project and respect the pattern – this way I know what I am getting into and ensure a successful; end-product. Cell phones, sidebars, etc…ask any knitter who’s in the middle of counting stitches or rows, they will tell you why this is a deal breaker!

 

Adding Some Spice to a Stale Relationship

Young couple having relationship problemsPlus 6 tips for better abs, and 7 great ideas for holiday gifts!

We are so conditioned to look for a time saving fix or an easy upgrade to fix anything in our lives that is feeling tired or old or used or outdated – and yet we content ourselves with our current facilities because any change seems too hard, too expensive, or too out of reach.

But have no fear – there may be hope.  in 2009 and 2011 our agency completely renovated two swimming pools – and I mean completely.  We tore out everything down to the hole in the ground – pools, bath houses, utilities…everything.  And we rebuilt.  And the new facilities were a smashing success.  Revenues and attendance more than doubled, and the pools became operationally self-sustaining.  Yay! We met our goals!

But that was, like, so 8 years ago.  The honeymoon is over.  Our community, which used to be super excited at the new pools, is now conditioned to expect that level of entertainment.  So what’s next?  Well, as much as we’d love to spend another $1 million on a flowrider surf machine, that’s just waaaaay outside of the budget picture.aquatics_slide_show_2_0

So how can we add some spice to this stale relationship that the public is having with our facility?  Lucky for me we live in PA and have this thing called ‘Winter’ that lets me do some research and admin work to find solutions.

1. Toys.  Toys are fun.  They cost money – but they can be an easy way to immediately change the recreation atmosphere at a facility.  For the pools, we added a climbing wall and a floating obstacle course (ours is a Wibit, but there are others out there).  We’re also looking at giant hamster balls, log rolling, zip lines, noodle jousting on inflatable ducks – and lots of other ideas.  We had instant success with purchasing these items for public use.  Indoor facilities have many similar features available – just do some research.

2.  Programs.  We regularly try new programs at the pools.  Three years ago we worked with our high school diving coach to add springboard diving lessons to go along with our already robust swim lesson program.  Last year we borrowed the Start Smart program concept and ran swim lessons where our instructor-led parents through a course teaching their own kids to swim.

3.  Events.  Disco night?  Maybe a little outdated, but what about a dance night with a DJ or live band?  Cardboard boat races?  Dog swim?  Fishing Derby after the season?  Pool-o-Ween?  There are lots of ideas already out there – or you can combine some and make your own!

Those are just a few ideas, but really here are the key points:

  •  Make the time to regularly evaluate your facilities and operations.  Get rid of stale programs or events.  Create new ones to replace them.
  • Budget for some new items, even if you have to spread the purchases over a few years.  They can make an immediate impact.
  • Do some research.  Thanks to the internet there are tons of ideas out there already.  You often don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just borrow ideas from other successful facilities!  You can also get a lot of great ideas from conferences and expos.

As for the 6 tips for better abs:

1. Eat Less

2. Eat Better

3. Exercise more

4. Repeat

And the 7 holiday gift ideas?

1. Ask them what they want.  7 times.

Recreation and Parks’ Internet of Things

How parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

Love ParkHow parks and recreation contribute to everything important!

In the spirit of bringing holistic thinking and collaborative services to solving people problems, this simple list depicts how park and recreation systems contribute to improving personal and community living. By no means is it comprehensive, so please add your suggestions to expand this view!

Health & Wellness
Healthcare Costs
Healthcare Delivery
Medical Recovery & Immune Benefits
Connection to Nature for Human Health
Alleviation of Stress, Depression & AD disorders
Physical Activity & Healthy Lifestyles
Physical, Mental, Emotional Therapy
Mitigate Obesity and Chronic Diseases
Youth & Family Development
Nutrition, Healthy Food Production & Choices
Preventative Treatment for Criminal & Risky Behaviors
Prevention & Response for Opioids & Drug Abuse
Improved Functioning of People with Special Needs
Evidence-based Health Improvement Programs
Tobacco Bans in Public Spaces

Environmental Sustainability
Wildlife Habitat Preservation
Carbon Sequestration
Water Quality & Supply
Wetlands Protection & Riparian Buffers
Biodiversity
Energy Costs & Conservation
Pollution Reduction
Air Quality
Connections to Nature
Brownfields Restoration
Climate Change
Preservation & Conservation
Heat Island Reduction
Natural Resource Management
Stormwater Management
Conservation Best Practices

Social Equity
Community & Neighborhood Engagement
Access to Economic and Socio-cultural Goods
Diversity & Inclusion
Cross-cultural Respect & Interaction
Gentrification
Children & Youth Services
Child Nutrition & Food Distribution
Equal Access to Parks & Recreation Services
Underserved Populations
Health Disparities
Neighborhood Green Spaces
Social Justice & Public Administration
Workforce Development

Economic Stimulation
Destination Tourism
Placemaking & Events
Concessions & Vendors
Connective Trails, Water Trails
Recreational and Cultural Attractions
Business Development & Attraction
Employment & Workforce Development
Recreation & Sports Equipment Sales
Property Values
Zoning & Enterprise Districts
Outdoor Recreation Industry
Growth of the Sharing Economy

Infrastructure & Resiliency
Multimodal transportation
Urban Planning
Traffic Mitigation
Caretaking & Maintenance
Gentrification
Trail Access & Connectivity
Stormwater Management
Disaster & Emergency Preparedness
“Clean, Safe & Ready-to-Use”
Streetscapes
Climate Change Adaptation & Mitigation
Landscape Architectural Design
Facilities & Resource Management
Technologies & Work Automation
Big Data & Anticipatory Intelligence

People Development
Community Leadership
Teambuilding and Collaborations
Personal Productivity & Creativity
Student Achievement & Engagement
Risk Resilience
Creative Play
Physical, Cognitive, Social & Emotional Development
Experiential & Lifelong Learning

Community Livability
Safety & Crime Mitigation
Placemaking
Historical and Cultural Preservation
Community Engagement
Forums for Public Art, Entertainment & Expression
Children & Youth Services
Safeguard Park Visitors and Recreationists
Public Spaces & Green Infrastructure
Urban Blight Mitigation
Connective Trails
Public-Private Partnerships
Business Development & Attraction
Research, Public Education & Advocacy

Recreation & Leisure
Aquatics & Athletics
Parks and Park Amenities
Arenas and Event Venues
Concessions and Supplies
Healthy Competition
Nature & Environmental Centers
Hunting & Fishing
Active & Passive Leisure Activities
Cultural & Historical Interpretation
Public Assets & Spaces
Community Gardens & Special Use Spaces
Integrated Services across Disciplines & Jurisdictions
Positive Youth, Family & Adult Development
Quality & Enrichment of Life

Opening the Swiss Army knife of integrated professionalism

Sharing expertise across disciplines and jurisdictions create better solutions.

SwissknifeProfessionalism: it radiates ethics and expertise, competence and character, and a good number of other worthy virtues—all good!

And yet…

What tends to be missing from the mix is enough mixing—among other disciplines. It’s not that we don’t have enough professionalism; it’s that it’s not shared enough.

Studies show that most governments, industries and organizations fail to collaborate across business functions when meeting customer and client needs. Such silo practices create an inability or unwillingness to share data, information, resources, or collaborate with others on shared missions.

For want of collaborative agility in our fast-paced society, a response delayed is an opportunity missed, a solution lost, and a future vanished.

That missing agility-ability is particularly far-reaching in the recreation and park profession. Because modern recreation and park systems are multifaceted physical and socioeconomic structures, they daily deliver foundational needs and essential human services.

Much of what constitutes the appeal and livability of our communities is our direct connection to our public spaces and our natural and cultural assets. Their facilities and features build a strong and resilient infrastructure. Their recreational opportunities bolster our wellness and life satisfaction. Together, our park and recreation systems contribute expansively to a healthy economy, environment and society in dozens of documented, tangible ways.

Park and recreation professionals are among the highest enablers of personal and community wellness, yet are often hindered by a lack of full interagency and interdisciplinary awareness, cooperation, and integrated services. Their public effectiveness in enabling community solutions would only improve with more interaction with their counterparts in public health, social services, community development, public works, transportation, food distribution and other services.

Moreover, many governmental agencies and public organizations do not yet readily identify parks and recreation as a go-to industry to help meet pressing social and economic issues. And while they may be willing to work toward positive change, they are often hampered by politics and/or bureaucratic structures that simply cannot move quickly on opportunities, make timely and productive decisions, or efficiently contribute to innovation.

To bring integrated solutions to complex public issues, we need integrated professionalism. Like opening a sophisticated Swiss Army Knife, we need to access a wide array of sharp professional tools, resources, capabilities and systems. Not only can we then combine savvy specialists and the best resources for the job, our collective synchronization of services spawns innovation, adds value, and reduces costs.

How can park and recreation leaders fashion such a purposeful toolkit?

Begin by focusing on shared opportunities. Construct intentional working relationships within agencies and organizations whose missions coincide with yours. Educate decision-makers and stakeholders on the ways park and recreation services contribute to community wellness. Such tools may look like these:

·  Integrated Professionalism Forum. Facilitate open forums among working professionals in recreation, parks, conservation, health, public works, maintenance, transportation, resources, economic development, therapy and social work, and urban and land use planning.

·  Top Co-op Day. With help from fellow professionals, convene an annual meeting with department heads (or their empowered reps) whose duties include community and economic development, conservation and natural resources, drug and alcohol programs, education, environmental protection, health, human services, transportation, and labor and industry. Build meeting agendas from real world examples and cases of need; plot practical sharing and collaborative resolutions.

·  Cooperative Exchanges. Create themed opportunities to share joint concerns with representatives from state and county commissions who deal with crime and delinquency, children and families, rural affairs, physical fitness and sports, green government, museums and heritage, arts, opioids, etc. Invite members to Park Champion and other public recreation and park events.

These are some of the strategies outlined in PRPS’s new Strategic Plan: let’s work together to shape a sharp new collaborative future! What cutting-edge applications can you apply? What successes have you had? What other transformational tools can you suggest for more integrated professionalism?

Customer Service Training and Trends

Does your staff groan and complain when you announce Customer Service training? Do they dread it, think they are already doing a great job, or just dislike sitting in training? Do we still need Customer Service Training?

Here’s the thing… Yes, your organization needs it. For all the reasons you already know, Live Chat Imageincluding improving your Customer Service or improving parts of it, but also because you need to keep up with changing trends, most of them driven by the online environment. The “customer” is changing in a Google and Amazon “on demand” world. You can get pet food delivered to your door almost instantly. Don’t think that people will wait days to hear back from you on their question about their pool pass.

And – for your staff – do it for them. Give them the tools they need to navigate the sometimes challenging path that includes unhappy customers. Help them not feel beat up at the end of a tough encounter, empower them with the tools they need to say “I can help you with that”, and help them be in control when policies and procedures need to be followed.

Here are some business trends you should know about with Customer Service. Some impact the Recreation sector as much as the business sector:

  • Chat: Use of instant chat is on the rise. What does that look like on the back end? When does a person take over from the auto-responses that get the conversation started? (I also wonder how many chats is that person juggling at once? And where in the world they actually are).
  • Artificial Intelligence: Forbes.com says that 80% of companies will use AI by 2020. That is just around the corner now, after using the statistic for a few years, so I wonder how that will hold up.
  • Social Media Service: This is a big one for Recreation. People have a question, first they Google it. If they cannot find it quickly, they click on Facebook or Twitter and they message either your organization or the universe at large. The Universe does not always provide an accurate answer while they are waiting for your answer. If your answer doesn’t come until four days later or after the weekend, you have a 35 message feed waiting for you to now navigate. But how realistic is it to have someone (the exhausted Director?) checking social media all weekend?
  • Google: People with a question go to Google first, and then they want a human. It’s that simple. The trends are showing less time and patience in seeking out the answer themselves.
  • Remote Customer Service: It’s much more likely now that your Customer Service agent is stateside rather than overseas, depending on the international level of the company you’re dealing with and very likely that person is working from home/remotely. So, within recreation, is there an opportunity to have a designated customer service team who is not actually on site?

Only you can know how busy your organization is and what level of customer service you need to start providing. But keeping an eye on the trends is important.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with social media. Be sure you are posting updates and precise easy to find information to prevent as much confusion as possible from the start. Consider a banner on your website for important things like pool closings, weather related info, holiday event updates, etc. Also, take a look at the back side of your website and what people are most navigating toward.

There is a word that pops up often in the Customer Service field: Customer-centric. That customer-centricity-icon-260nw-1062868253means your processes and navigations and available options need to be tailored for exactly what works best for your customer. The flip side is sometimes that it’s not always what is best or easiest for you and your staff.

This a great exercise during that staff training that you’ve been putting off having! Be aware of what is challenging or what customers are complaining about, what is the customer-centric solution, and then how can you actually make it work on the back end?

This is all important work that will pay off in the long run and it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

Is Your House in Order?

How many of you can identify20181102_141353_resized.jpg with this scenario?

You have staff scheduled to drag your ball field for an important softball tournament and the infield machine won’t start. They determine it is a safety switch that needs adjusted. They go to your trusty shop toolbox and look for the 9/16ths socket w/ 1/2” drive with the extension and the universal to reach the adjustment to make the adjustment. But when they look for it, they can only find a 9/16th socket in the 3/4” drive. Ok, so they have to use a tool bigger than they need, no big deal right? Only to realize they don’t have a universal attachment for a 3/4” drive to help reach the bolt to adjust the safety switch to get the infield drag operational!

The universal joint was used yesterday to help make a repair to the lift station and was dropped down into the vault. So they decide with the tools they have to remove the seat, seat frame, and two other hose clamps to be able to access the bolt that is now becoming the needle in the proverbial haystack. As the supervisor, you realize the field still hasn’t been dragged and find maintenance staff fully involved in a mechanical operation that has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes the smallest things can trip up your operations and give you pause. Getting to the root of the problem may be right under your nose, or feet as it were. Not only may your toolbox not have all the correct tools you need but they may be so scattered it takes way too much time to find them or account for them.

Back away from the toolbox and look at your maintenance facility. If you have tools on the floor, power tools laying on your workbench, rakes, and shovels leaning in the corner waiting for someone to step on them and re-create a three stooges short, you may have found the problem. Organizing you maintenance facility can take many hours and some creative thinking of how to store and track your tools & equipment.

However, the time invested in creating a well-organized and maintained maintenance facility over the long run can make your crews more productive and efficient than even they thought possible. Space seems to often be an obstacle. You may have opportunities to use the walls to hang equipment to free up floor space. Rafters are also an opportunity for storage. If you simply do not have any more space, it may be worth looking at how the space is being utilized. A re-organization can also produce better results. Heated vs cold storage should also be considered. An outdoor roof or simple lean-to may be just the ticket for those items that can safely be stored outside.

One of my favorite things to do is visit other facilities and not just park facilities to see how others organize their maintenance facilities. Schools, Ballparks, Commercial Landscapers, Cities, Counties, State Facilities, Commercial Facilities. Chances are you know many of these folks and many would be willing to have you visit. Take pictures and ask questions, there’s a good chance some of the best ideas they have were either from their own staff or from other facility operators. And don’t forget to put that 9/16ths socket back where you found it!

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