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Recreation and Leisure: Everywhere, Everyone, All the Time

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Recreation and Leisure 3rd Edition eBook With Web Study Guide by Tyler Tapps & Mary Sara Wells.

Well-worn soccer balls skirt the streets of villages around the world whether the villages are wracked with strife or disaster or have manicured fields and youth and adult teams in matching uniforms. The five rings of the Olympic Games burn brightly every four years as tens of thousands of athletes representing hundreds of countries from around the world gather in the spirit of competition and unity. Street merchants in Bangkok play a checkers-like board game that is hastily constructed of cardboard and discarded bottle caps. Visitors from around the world marvel at the migration of wildlife across the plains of the Serengeti, and others admire the exceptional beauty and unique geological features of Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. People travel great distances to snorkel in Belize, fish in New Zealand, explore the Louvre, or observe the changing of the guard in Ottawa or at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, DC. Historic sites and natural areas around the world are preserved and protected so people can engage firsthand in natural, cultural, or historic awareness and appreciation.


It's Everywhere

Parks, recreation, and leisure is everywhere - all the places and spaces in which people gather to play, enjoy, and relax. It is in the far reaches of the Sahara, the crowded seashores of California, the Broadway theaters and museums of New York City, the Hell's Gate Airtram, and the Classic Chinese Garden of Vancouver. Leisure pursuits take place in cities and towns, small villages, the countryside, and mega-urban centers. Leisure experiences occur inside buildings and in outdoor spaces. The array of places is extensive and includes auditoriums, zoos, churches, and casinos. There are health clubs and spas located in airports, rock-climbing walls in retail establishments, and play areas at some fast-food restaurants and retail stores.


Another dimension of the everywhere quality of parks and recreation is illustrated in the fact that all types of organizations and businesses provide parks, recreation, and leisure services. The delivery of services is not limited to only one type of organization. For example, one golf course might be under the governance of a city or state, another similar course might be a private country club for members only, and a third course might be managed by a corporation. Organizations that offer adventure pursuits can run the gamut from local nonprofits, such as a YMCA, that offer outdoor leadership training to travel companies that design and offer adventure experiences around the globe.


Recreation can take place indoors or outdoors, at home or in a park, and at any time of day.
Recreation can take place indoors or outdoors, at home or in a park, and at any time of day.
Getty Images/Corbis Documentary/Arctic-Images


It's for Everyone

Consider the ways that parks, recreation, and leisure touches the lives of people of all ages, life stages, cultures, social classes, and genders. Think about personal experiences or observations, and identify the people who participate in a recreation activity or spend time in a natural setting. These might include the following:

  • College students playing coed volleyball in the school's intramural league
  • A 10-year-old taking beginning drawing lessons at the community center
  • A parent and toddler enrolled in a movement class at the local YMCA
  • Friends spending time together at a day spa
  • Families picnicking while enjoying an outdoor band concert
  • A 12-year-old going away to camp for the first time
  • People playing pickup basketball at the local park
  • An adolescent testing self-sufficiency on an Outward Bound trip
  • Grandparents taking grandchildren on a trip to the Grand Canyon
  • A teen group teaching retirees how to surf the net
  • A stressed-out adult watching the sunset
  • Employees attending the annual company outing to a theme park
  • Special Olympics athletes crossing the finish line with elation that brings smiles to the faces of participants and spectators alike
  • The over-60 softball team exhibiting a desire to win similar to that of the youth soccer league players
  • Fledgling and gifted artists displaying work in the same community art show


An adage often used by parks and recreation professionals employed in the community sector is that parks and recreation takes people "from the cradle to the grave." Although that is not the most appealing description, it does reinforce the presence of parks and recreation in everyone's lives.


All the Time

Although the pursuits of open space, physical activity, and social outings happen all the time (any month of the year, any day of the week, and throughout all the life stages of human existence), some recreation activities are associated mainly with the summer or the winter, and holidays sometimes serve as an impetus. For example, the new year and its emphasis on resolutions motivates people to become more physically active or to seek out new experiences. Independence Day celebrations are commonly accompanied by picnics, concerts, fireworks, trips, and other outings, and Halloween brings out the childlike spirit in young and old alike with parties and parades.


The characteristics of different seasons provide opportunities for year-round activity. The first thaw finds people tending lawns and starting gardens. Summer draws people to mountains, lakes, streams, or seashores. Winter gives way to skiing, skating, curling, and snowboarding. People's passions for certain activities have influenced the all-the-time approach to parks and recreation. It used to be that tennis and soccer could only be played in warm weather, and ice-skating and hockey required cold weather. Indoor facilities, lit playing fields, and trails expand the opportunities to engage in parks and recreation services.


People also pursue recreation at all hours of the day. Ski areas that open at first light give would-be lift-ticket purchasers the chance to check out snow conditions. Health clubs that open at 4:30 a.m. enable early risers to work out before heading to work. Heavily industrialized communities offer adult leagues and activities to accommodate the traditional three shifts of factory work. The city of Las Vegas, with its "Beyond the Neon" slogan, offers unusual times for programs and activities because many residents work shifts in the casinos that operate around the clock. YMCAs and community centers offer sleepovers that provide not only fun and excitement for children but also leisure time for parents. Midnight basketball facilitates recreation participation late at night.


Recreation and leisure also occur throughout the life cycle. Play is essential for children, and from infancy and through adolescence they acquire important life skills through recreation and leisure activities and experiences. The peekaboo games so popular with babies and the duck, duck, goose game so common in early childhood teach important social connections and interactions. At the other end of the spectrum, recreation provides stress reduction for overworked adults and social support for older people who live alone.

Outstanding Graduate

Background Information

Name: Sarah Martsolf-Brooks

Education: MS in parks, recreation, and tourism from the University of Utah

Credentials: AFO

Awards: Colorado Starburst Award (2016) for her Palisade Bike Skills Park

Affiliations: National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), Colorado Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA)



©Sarah Martsolf-Brooks

Career Information

Position: Palisade Parks and Recreation (Town of Palisade, Colorado)

Organization: Upon completing my master's degree at the University of Utah, I was hired by the town of Palisade in Colorado as the recreation director. Palisade is a small agricultural community of 3,000 people, known for abundant peach orchards, charming wineries, and plenty of outdoor recreation. Palisade also plays host to several special events, which draw in more than 40,000 tourists throughout the year. Town employees often find themselves navigating multiple jobs, with only 30 full-time employees spread out over five departments. The recreation department consists of one full-time employee, three seasonal college interns, and specialty instructors who are hired on as contractors.

Job description: Working in Palisade was most attractive because it gave me the opportunity to build a new recreation department from the ground up. The first programs I started in 2011 included basic fitness classes, DIY activities, family game nights, and outdoor activities such as day trips and hikes. My job is rarely the same from day to day, with job duties that include marketing, program and event planning, program facilitation, grant writing, park projects, supervising interns, aquatics, attending outreach committees, merchandising for events, and coordinating volunteers. What I like most are leading outdoor adventures, bringing my dogs to work, watching new friendships grow, planning park projects, and coaching the summer swim team. However, with limited staff time, it is difficult to expand program offerings without taking away from already-successful programs.

Career path: I got my start in parks and recreation as a lifeguard with the City of Fruita. Soon after, I progressed into pool management, worked on special events, and taught fitness classes. After completing a bachelor's degree in sports and exercise science, I worked as a personal trainer and coached rugby. I also have experience in campus recreation from both Northern Colorado and the University of Utah.

Advice for Undergraduates

The subject field of public parks and recreation offers a rewarding career because there are many opportunities to make an impact; through trails and open spaces, people of all economic levels can be encouraged to stay active, children can be inspired to become stewards of the environment through after-school programs, and older adults can challenge age stereotypes through outdoor adventure. My advice to students is to search for jobs of interest, not pick based on salary range; find something that you will love getting out of bed for each day - a career that will offer challenges and opportunities to achieve new goals.

"When given the choice to take a shorter path or one less traveled, the one less traveled may pose more challenges, but the views from the top are spectacular."


Recreation and Leisure Takes Up One-Third of Our Time

People sometimes discount the role and the importance of unobligated, discretionary time and the role it plays in quality of life. They focus on attending school, getting a good night's sleep, and going to work, but those activities don't take up all of their time.


If people living in industrialized nations sleep between six and eight hours every day and work or go to school for another eight hours a day during the week, how much unobligated time do they have? Although the number of hours consumed by sleep, work, and the requirements of daily living, such as housework, commuting, and so on, vary from person to person, one thing is certain: Unobligated time accounts for well over one-third of most people's lives. To see how this is true, consider the following:

  • Life span. People born today in the United States or Canada can expect to live to approximately 80 years, and school attendance and work do not occur during all of those years.
  • Sleep. Approximately one-third, or eight hours, of every day is spent sleeping.
  • Play. Children from birth to 4 years old spend a minimum of six hours per day exploring, learning, and growing through play.
  • School. The amount of time children and young adults spend in school varies based upon whether they pursue education beyond secondary school. The amount of time remaining for leisure is likely different based upon individual conditions. A sixth grader with three hours of homework every night probably doesn't get a full eight hours of leisure time just as a community college student working to pay for college expenses would not have the eight hours per day either.
  • Work. Most people work full time for 40 hours per week for 30 to 50 years. Many people have at least two weeks of vacation per year and don't work on select holidays.
  • Third age. Retirement, or third age, typically lasts at least five years and can be longer depending on longevity. Nearly 30 percent of people who have already reached the age of 65 (or will in the near future) will likely live even longer than 80 years. This suggests that there will be many years that are unencumbered by schooling and full-time employment.


Play around with the years and hours cited in the previous list to see how much time is available after you account for sleeping, eating, schooling, and working. The unobligated time remaining might surprise you.


Beyond Everywhere and Everyone

Although parks, recreation, and leisure facilities and services are everywhere and are available to everyone most of the time, their presence alone isn't enough to prove their value to individuals, families, work groups, neighborhoods, communities, and society. Just being everywhere all the time is not necessarily a valuable or positive attribute. For example, cable television operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but that does not mean that the programs or offerings are positive or of value or interest to the viewer. We need to explore the depth of values and benefits that lie beneath the surface of parks and recreation. Consider the following values of parks and recreation to different individuals:

  • A university student might choose to join the intramural coed volleyball team to be physically active, hang out with friends, meet new people, or have a change of pace from classes and study time (or a combination of these).
  • A 12-year-old might look forward to attending a residential camp for one month to acquire new skills, practice being independent, make new friends, or exhibit self-reliance.
  • A single mother with a very long day ahead of her might rise at 5:30 a.m. to sit with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise to help her relax, reflect, and regroup before the nonstop demands of her day.


The values and benefits that people derive from the park setting, recreation activity, or leisure experience imbue parks and recreation with its inherent value. The unusual list of questions titled "Guess Who I Am" (figure 1.1) from an issue of Parks & Recreation can serve as a springboard for the various ways parks and recreation can be viewed and the diverse roles it can play (Corwin, 2001).


This list of questions illustrates the diversity of parks and recreation.


Reprinted courtesy of Parks & Recreation, National Recreation and Park Association.