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Value of the Profession and Benefits to the Professional

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

Recreation and leisure services have long provided many benefits to all sectors of society. Because it contributes to the quality of life and enhances communities, the field is identified as a core value within the United States, Canada, and other countries. Those who work in the field enjoy a career with numerous benefits.

Working within a profession that can provide an array of benefits to society can undoubtedly provide a great deal of satisfaction to the professional. But the benefits to the professional go beyond self-satisfaction. For many, the desire to work in the field stems from a love of recreation and leisure. Those professionals have chosen a career path that allows them to combine their passion with their paycheck. For the park ranger, a love of being outside and spending time in some of the most beautiful places on earth lends itself to working to protect those areas. A student with a passion for travel may end up using that knowledge and interest to help ensure that others develop the same passion. Whatever branch of the profession you choose to enter, you will have the opportunity to live your passion. Certainly, the workplace itself can be a benefit. State and national parks, sport arenas, cruise ships, golf courses, and other leisure spaces are settings that can be beautiful, exhilarating, and just plain fun.

Professionals in the field of parks and leisure services also find themselves drawn to the profession by their love of working with the public. When you are working with the public, no two days are the same. Boredom tends to be nonexistent because a job in the field provides constant challenges and opportunities for growth as well as interaction with a diverse set of people.

Characteristics of the Recreation and Leisure Services Profession

Remember that conversation you had with your parents or grandparents about your chosen career path? Part of their concern may have stemmed from the all-too-common confusion about working as a professional in the field. But a strong case can be made that recreation and leisure services is indeed a noble profession. The following six commonly accepted markers explain what makes a job not just a job but a profession, and recreation and leisure services appears to measure up (McLean & Hurd, 2012).

Social Value and Purpose

The first criterion recognizes that a profession must have a social value and purpose. That is, the field in question must contribute to the greater good of society. With its emphasis on health, wellness, youth development, quality of life, community and economic development, the environment, and sustainability, recreation and leisure services easily meets this requirement (McLean & Hurd, 2012).

Public Recognition

The second standard is that the field has public recognition. That is, the public acknowledges the importance of recreation and leisure and, perhaps more important, is willing to pay for it. Certainly, the acknowledgment differs among the various sectors of the field. Spending patterns related to travel and tourism and other forms of commercial recreation differ from those of government-sponsored (or public) recreation. Of course, the means of funding for each are also different. The private sector, or commercial recreation, depends entirely on the willingness of people to choose one product over another (e.g., Disney World versus Six Flags), whereas public-sector organizations such as local parks and recreation agencies get at least a portion of their funding through appropriated government funding such as property and hospitality taxes (McLean & Hurd, 2012).

Specialized Professional Preparation

The third necessary component of a profession is specialized professional preparation, which refers to the degree to which the profession has requirements that those working in the field must meet before they can practice or the degree of professional authority that a practitioner must possess. In recreation and leisure services, three areas are related to this criterion: professional preparation in recreation and parks, a specialized body of knowledge, and accreditation in higher education (McLean, Hurd, & Rogers, 2008).

Professional preparation refers to the college and university curricula that have been developed including two-year associate degrees, four-year bachelor's degrees, and master's and doctoral degrees. The four-year bachelor's degree is the most common requirement for entry into a full-time position within the field, although the degree specifications can vary from program to program depending on a student's specific area of interest. For example, in many recreation and leisure service university programs, students have a choice of concentration areas that might include community recreation management, sport management, camp management, travel and tourism, therapeutic recreation, recreation resource management, and professional golf management. Therefore, although most programs develop their core curricula around accreditation standards, which are discussed next, course requirements following completion of the core delve more specifically into the concentration area requirements.

The specialized body of knowledge refers to whether the field has a unique knowledge base that a practitioner must have to be effective. A cursory look at any recreation and leisure services curriculum might suggest that the field has simply absconded and claimed as its own knowledge from a variety of areas, including communications, management, marketing, and finance, and added a parks and recreation spin on the content. On closer look, however, it becomes apparent that this spin, as well as an increasingly specialized research base that contributes to the overall body of knowledge in the field, has assisted the recreation and leisure services field in developing its own specialized body of knowledge. In fact, an examination of our growing base of literature, exemplified by books about recreation and leisure services and journals focused on the field of leisure research, illustrates the advancements that have been made in understanding how the field is unique. Further enhancing this body of knowledge are practical, defined internship experiences that are required of recreation and leisure services students. These internships allow students to put this knowledge into action. This hands-on experience combined with our growing understanding of the nature of recreation and leisure services as a human services profession provides students and practitioners with the confidence to identify recreation and leisure services as a profession that has a specialized body of knowledge.

Finally, this specialized professional preparation is enhanced through a commitment to accreditation in higher education. Accreditation requires academic programs to meet standards set by a governing body that has identified the critical skills and knowledge needed to work in a profession. Although not all recreation and leisure programs are accredited, those that are have demonstrated to the governing body that their curriculum is designed to teach those skills and has also been successful in doing so, as verified by outcome measurement. Recreation and leisure services enhanced its standing as a legitimate area of scholarship concern through the development and approval of standards by the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation in 1982. Today, the Council on Accreditation of Parks, Recreation, Tourism and Related Professions (COAPRT) is the accrediting body for recreation and leisure services curricula and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which provides oversight to COAPRT.

Students who major in recreation and leisure services often get a large amount of hands-on learning in skills such as programming.
Students who major in recreation and leisure services often get a large amount of hands-on learning in skills such as programming.
Christopher Futcher/iStock/Getty Images

Existence of a Professional Culture

The existence of a professional culture and related professional associations is the fourth indication that a field is recognized as a profession (McLean & Hurd, 2012). Professional associations are membership organizations that provide a variety of services related to the development and advancement of the field. Professional associations can serve as advocates for the goals of the profession and provide opportunities for networking and continuing education of their members to advance the profession. For instance, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has identified three pillars of focus: conservation, health and wellness, and social equity. NRPA serves as an advocate nationally and internationally through interaction with government officials and partnerships with public- and private-sector agencies. Eight primary activities of professional associations have been identified (Edginton, DeGraaf, Dieser, & Edginton, 2006):

  1. Advocacy for the profession's ideals
  2. Educational opportunities for members
  3. Written and electronic communication among members
  4. Face-to-face and electronic networking opportunities
  5. Promotion of standards of practice
  6. Recognition of best practices and exemplary performance by individuals and agencies
  7. Research and fact finding that will advance the profession
  8. Provision of liability, health, or retirement benefits

All these activities contribute to the growth of individual members and the profession as a whole. See the web study guide for a partial list of professional associations in the field.

Credentialing and Standards

Fifth, true professions will recognize credentialing, certification, and agency accreditation as key indicators of quality within the field. Credentialing refers to qualifications that professionals must meet before they can practice in a field. Although recreation and leisure services, as a diverse field, has no unified credentialing system, various arms of the field have certification processes designed to set standards for practice. Numerous certifications exist for a variety of specific areas ranging from tourism (e.g., event planning) to sport management (e.g., coaching certifications) to park services (e.g., interpretive guides). Two of the most well-known certifications are the certified park and recreation professional (CPRP) and the certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS). Certification ensures that a practitioner in the field has attained a certain level of skill and knowledge as measured by a standardized exam. Practitioners must meet certain education or experience guidelines to sit for the certification exam and, upon successful completion of the exam, earn a predetermined number of continuing education units over a specified time to retain certification, thereby ensuring that their knowledge remains current. Detailed information on the certification processes can be found for the CPRP at and for the CTRS at Like academic programs, public parks and recreation agencies can also undergo an accreditation process through the Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) to ensure that they are practicing at a high level with respect to the services they offer. This type of accreditation process also ensures higher levels of professionalism in the recreation and leisure services field (McLean & Hurd, 2012).

Code of Ethical Practice

The final criterion for a profession is that it has developed a code of ethical practice. This code outlines the responsibilities of the field to the public and the ways professionals will carry out services in the field. Although the recreation and leisure services profession does not have an overarching code of ethical practice such as that found in the medical field, individual agencies typically develop their own codes, or, more commonly, professional associations for the various sectors of the field develop codes of ethical practice that agencies then follow (McLean & Hurd, 2012). For instance, the Code of Ethics for the America Therapeutic Recreation Association addresses issues such as autonomy, justice, fairness, and confidentiality ( Figure 18.1 illustrates the code of ethics for Greenville County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.

A well-defined code of ethics will facilitate the adherence to professional standards by organizational staff.

Reprinted, by permission, from Greenville South Carolina.

Learn more about Introduction to Recreation and Leisure, Third Edition.

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