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Programming Philosophies

This is an excerpt from Recreational Sport by Robert Barcelona,Mary Wells & Skye Arthur-Banning.

Before beginning to plan a program, it is important to have a solid understanding of why the program exists. Organizations should have defined how they are going to operate within the community, what role they are choosing to play within the community, and how that role is designed to improve the lives of people within the community. Particularly in recreational sport programs, organizations are likely to highlight their emphasis on participation, healthy competition, and enjoyment.


Similarly, the community will have an idea of the philosophy of the recreational sport program. It may be to provide adequate facilities, to facilitate affordable programs, or to provide a safe environment for children to participate in. The problem is that sometimes the philosophy of the agency is not consistent with the philosophy of the residents that it is serving.


Why People Choose a Program

With the multitude of programs available in every state and town, understanding why a participant might choose one program over another is important. For example, when it comes to selecting a hockey program, the facilities, the instructor's ability, the customer service, the coach's approach to the sport, the winning percentage, and the cost can all play a role in swaying one participant from program A to program B. Perhaps most important, though, are the mission and philosophy of a program and how those foundational components of a program are expressed in the overall planning of the activities.


More specifically, in the recreational sport setting, there is a move for programs to attempt to distinguish themselves as either recreational or competitive. The benefit is that participants can then make an informed decision about the nature and level of competition they desire in a program as well as the costs and amount of travel and time they want to invest in the activity. The drawback to this type of philosophical approach and subsequent programming is the misperception that competitive means less sportsmanship and youth development and recreational means less skill development and less talented participants.


A recreational sport program can have a philosophy that is extremely competitive and also focuses on skill development and high-level talent. It might simply involve less travel, have shorter seasons, or be more game oriented so participants only have to devote two or three days a week to the sport. Similarly, an elite program can focus on training at a high level but also on youth development, ethical behavior in the activity, respect for opponents, physical fitness, and lifelong fitness behaviors.


This is one example of how a program philosophy (elite or recreational) might attract or detract from a participant's desire to be involved. Clearly, it is critical for recreational sport professionals to clearly define the philosophy of a program. A program that clearly defines what it philosophically represents is much more likely to be successful because it is going to attract participants who more closely align with the philosophy of the organization to begin with.


Program Design

There are three types of program designs that might attract or push participants away from a particular sport program. In the first design, often referred to as the blended program, a variety of offerings are presented within a specific sport league. For example, in a basketball program there might be pickup times, recreational and elite leagues, coaching and training sessions, and various tournament offerings within each of the leagues or even a small-sided tournament such as 3 on 3. The major benefit of the blended design structure is that it offers a variety of programs for a large population in an effort to meet the needs of constituents. However, a negative of the blended program tends to be quality. If an agency is running a variety of programs over the course of a season, it becomes difficult and potentially expensive to run each program well.


The second design type is often referred to as the targeted program, in which a facility focuses on a limited type or number of programs. For example, a facility may choose to run an elite basketball league with a few traveling teams for each age group and then offer pickup basketball. With fewer demands being placed on the facilities, coaches, and financial resources, it is much easier to focus on the one or two types of programs being run and to do them well. Because few programs are being organized, the staffing and financial resources could be closely targeted and the few leagues would be run well. However, the drawback is that the narrow offering of programs targets only one type of participant, therefore limiting the number of customers served.


A third type of program is a tiered program, where people can join a variety of activities at multiple levels of participation with the intent of progressing from one level to the next. In the base or introductory level, participants get a sense of the activity, rules, equipment, and so on for a short amount of time without having to commit to an entire season or spend a lot of money. Programs might provide rental equipment or instructional classes to allow participants an opportunity to experiment with the activity. The most important aspect of a tiered program is that participants can see a clear progression through the programs from one tier to the next, allowing them to make progressive decisions about their commitment to the programs.


For example, a learn-to-skate program might be offered once a week for five weeks with skate rentals provided. In the midlevel program, various recreational or drop-in opportunities might be scheduled to allow participants to progress up the tier of involvement and activity. Activities at this level might include an introductory program for hockey or figure skating. Participants who took the learn-to-skate program and are looking for ways to get more involved in skating can therefore progress up the tier of participation from less investment to progressively greater investment. The top tier would then be the leagues or competition in hockey or figure skating, and even within this tier there could be multileveled participation. One could enter the top tier in a recreational hockey league, a local city league, or a traveling league, which require increasing amounts of commitment, time, costs, and resources.

Learn more about Recreational Sport: Program Design, Delivery, and Management.