Future directions in recreation

*by Karen Milligan

Australian’s tend to take their recreation services and facilities for granted.  I was recently in Cambodia and it was a real eye opener. No ovals, no boat ramps, very few recreation centres or sporting facilities, and very few formally organised health and fitness activities.  

Most of the people recreated on the streets or footpaths, even in the capital city. It was common to see people standing in the middle of the street hitting shuttlecocks to each other, not competitively, just for fun, and with no nets or courts.

For early morning health and fitness classes, someone arrives with a boom box at a spot that is big enough for 30 or more people, and they do some very interesting moves to music.

The trainers have no formal training and people just join in if they want to. At the end, participants give the trainer a small amount of money for the service.

This supports my belief that people naturally want recreation and the main reason for this is that it makes them feel good and adds to their quality of life.  

We are lucky to live in a society that values and promotes recreation and provides us with many opportunities to do so.

Of course, recreation has additional benefits, including improved physical and mental health and increased levels of fitness. It can enhance our cognitive capacity, including memory, concentration and learning; it can reduce stress; is a preventative factor for many chronic illnesses; often has a strong social component; and assists us to link into our communities.
Aside from this, I think the feelgood factor is the most important and primary driver – and important for service providers to remember when offering recreation opportunities.

In the past five years, there have been increased incentives from both State and Federal Governments for Local Governments to expand their role into the provision and promotion of physical activity opportunities. This has been driven by the growing health indicators showing the population’s diminishing participation in physical activity and the associated growth in obesity.

In engaging young people in sport and physical activity, I believe we need to dedicate time and resources towards providing modern options. Most important is not to go into competition with technology, but to utilise it. Nintendo’s Wii is a good example of this and there are many other technologically based fitness products aimed at getting people active.

Because the technology industry is astute, I suspect options in this area will grow and be even more attractive to young people in the future. As an industry, we need to be aware of them, use them and adopt them early.

We can also assist parents by providing active options, ranging from interesting playgrounds to active before and afterschool programs. If we can engage young people and find out what is of interest to them, then they will be happy to participate.

One project Esperance is planning to introduce next year is a school-club link. This project will link some of the 100 sport and recreation clubs in Esperance to the school curriculum. It will offer school children a greater choice and range of activity, while at the same time, linking them with the community.

The sort of clubs involved would include both the traditional and non traditional sport and recreation actives. Some of the less traditional options include go-carting, scuba diving, yoga and motorcycle racing.  

Local sportspeople will assist the teachers and if the young people like it, they will be encouraged to join the local club.  

On a wider scale, recreation has some big challenges ahead.  

From a Local Government perspective, possibly the most important is the capacity for the provision of environmentally sustainable sport and recreation options. Sport and recreation has a large carbon footprint and the challenge will be to significantly reduce this.  

In the shorter term, this factor is likely to change the way we provide sporting and recreation infrastructure, and in the longer term, it may seriously challenge the survival of some sports.  

Sports and activities that have a low carbon footprint will be cheaper and more attractive to the community. Associate to this issue is the high cost in providing the standard of recreation services and infrastructure Australian’s have grown to expect.  

With an increasing population, all spheres of government are struggling to maintain service levels, and the industry is working hard to develop economically sustainable models for the provision of sport and recreation services and infrastructure.  

In Esperance, while the providers are aware of this, the community still has high expectations. Transference of a great percentage of the costs to the user may be the best way to encourage the community’s recognition of this issue. Ongoing work on new and alternative models for the provision of recreation facilities and service is implicit in this.

Both these issues are occurring concurrently with the growing recognition of the importance of a physically active for the health and wellbeing of individuals.

There is a growing concern that we need to attract more of the people who are less fit and less healthy.

In Esperance, we are seeing a significant growth in interest in low intensity pursuits, such as yoga, Tia Chi, dance for fitness and walking. This interest is apparent across all age groups. It is also associated with the need to provide opportunities that suit the myriad of lifestyles within the community.

A regular commitment to a team sport or involvement in regular set time activities does not suit a significant percentage of the community – yet they still would like to retain the social aspect of recreation. Responding to this change in appetite will be a challenge to the industry.

With the growing interest and investment in physical activity, sports development, and sustainable recreation infrastructure development, it is an exciting time to be involved. There are also significant career opportunities everywhere.  

For council recreation staff, this has strengths and weaknesses. In larger councils, where staffing levels enable some specialisation, this provides opportunity and the development of best practise. In smaller councils, where staffing levels in recreation are small and generalist or non existent, the demands to prepare for the complexities of the future may be difficult.

In a small and isolated community such as Esperance, we use technology, networks and industry bodies to search for new directions in the industry and the proven best practise options and advice. We do not have the time, capacity and often the expertise to ‘reinvent the wheel’.

Developing strong partnerships and collaborating with other service providers and other industries will be ever important in the future. For example, where recreation crosses with environmental issues, the two industries with their different expertise should be seen to work closely together.

In Esperance we have developed strong partnerships with our General Practitioners and the Health Department due to the growing need to work with the less healthy and less fit. We cannot effectively address the key challenges we face in the recreation industry on our own.  

Strong partnerships will be crucial.

*Karen Milligan is the Manager Recreation and Youth Services at the Shire of Esperance, Western Australia