In the recreation industry, I often find myself having to “prove” the value of recreation and defend the careers of leisure service professionals.  This is no small feat, and it seems that outdoor recreation, in particular, often receives the brunt of the criticism.

While many of us realize the intrinsic and extrinsic value of recreation in our lives, we seem to encounter significant stumbling blocks when approached with skepticism and ridicule concerning our recreation professions.  It seems crucial, therefore, for us to think critically about the leisure and recreation service industry, and to be able to defend our personal and professional commitments to the industry and lifestyle of recreation.

University students participating in a hiking/paddling excursion (Perrot State Park, WI)

Nathan Williams, an integral member of the AORE Campus Outdoor Recreation Assessment and Accountability Task Force (CORAA), has created and compiled some effective tools for recreation professionals to defend the value of outdoor recreation in our communities. Williams’s key talking points relate directly to campus outdoor recreation programs.  However, these points correspond to many areas and people groups in a way that enables all of us to benefit when considering the justification for leisure and recreation services.

Fall 2013 Caving Trip: Students getting ready to go "down under"

Whether involved in campus recreation programs or other activities, most of these points remain quite relevant across the board. With the student-specific ones, we can all be encouraged knowing that many recreation habits and activities often begin during peoples’ college years and continue throughout their lives. This point alone speaks to the value of campus recreation in our communities and professions.

Campus Outdoor Recreation Talking Points
(Adapted from Nathan Williams of CORAA)

  • Campus outdoor recreation experiences may increase student first-year grade point average, retention, and contribute to greater levels of student development.
  • Studies suggest that outdoor experiences reduce stress and anxiety among students and that outdoor recreation specifically contributes to increased emotional control for student participants.
  • Students who participate in campus recreation may place higher lifelong importance on health and fitness than students who do not.
  • Research has shown that outdoor recreation participants may gain increases in life effectiveness skills such as time management, task leadership, and achievement motivation.  
  • Participation in outdoor recreation may lead to environmentally sustainable attitudes and behaviors.
After reviewing and analyzing 116 articles, the above points were drafted as a resource to recreation enthusiasts and professionals.  When considering the future of outdoor recreation programming, it is vital for us to study and defend our industry in a way that justifies its existence.  CORAA recognizes the need for resources and evidence and has been initiated to support the healthy development and progress of campus outdoor recreation.

Trip leader teaching first-year students about "camp craft", backcountry cooking, environmental ethics, and other useful skills.

For more resources and citations regarding the points here, please visit and view Nathan Williams’ presentation document. For cards of the above information and other resources, visit Simpleotter.com.

Your Turn: What other points would you add to this list? How do you defend the value of outdoor recreation?

# Comments

  • carsuek

    Great article. Personally, I wish I had been involved in something like this and taken the time to enjoy more outdoor adventures while I was in school, especially during finals weeks, a perfect and affordable way to relieve stress. Maybe I’m crazy, but finding a way to support oneself by loving and experiencing the outdoors sounds like a dream, regardless of whether others value it or not. Sending supportive vibes!

    • AJ Heil

      Word! Outdoor recreation is a perfect fit for college students, who typically have a great deal of disposable time (whether it seems like it, or not). Hopefully folks jump on the wagon and get involved while they can in college!

  • Greg Heil

    To be completely honest, sometimes I get sick of defending my choice to do outdoor recreation. Everyone is always asking why I spend so much time biking, skiing, etc.,… the question is, why not? Why do I have to give reasons for doing what I want to do? It’s fun, I do it, end of story.

    However, after my move to Colorado recently, I’ve found that no one asks me why I mountain bike. There are so many people in Salida that mountain bike, it’s almost odd to find someone who DOESN’T. I think that’s kind of appropriate. The question shouldn’t be, “why do you spend so much time in the mountains,” it should be, “why DON’T you spend more time in the mountains?”

    As for defending your job in the industry, I think that maybe there’s a difference between the public sector and the private sector. In the public sector, tax dollars are paying your salary, so you constantly have to be justifying your existence to the tax payers and the higher-ups. Since some people don’t see recreation as “essential,” I suppose therein lies the difficulty.

    But in the private sector, if you can make money doing whatever you’re doing, then I think that counts as reason enough. People make money putting cat videos on the internet, for crying out loud.

  • Jeff Barber

    So is there a national organization that promotes or supports college outdoor clubs? I know at my university there wasn’t a very active group but at Leah’s school it was so popular they routinely had trips “sell out.”

    • AJ Heil

      Campus Outdoor Recreation Assessment and Accountability Task Force (CORAA) would be your fit for that! The Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) is the national umbrella organization that this would fall under… There are several regional organizations as well that promote and support campus recreation club, organizations, and departments. In my ideal world, every campus would have a program that routinely “sells out” where the demand is high and the supply is resourced by the students and the university.

      Campus recreation programs are becoming more popular and prominent, from what I hear! Hopefully the trend continues to grow…

  • jpmmcbride

    Wow, brother, I know how you feel. I feel like I have to constantly prove myself and prove the worth of outdoor activities to people. Even some of my closest friends don’t quite understand it. Be encouraged though, I think that having a strong resolve and sticking with it will pay off in the end!

    • AJ Heil

      It’s a definite reality! I’m encouraged too, knowing that there’s valid reasons proving the value of recreation. Once engaged in them, people tend to liken to the benefits of outdoor activities and adventure.

      On university campuses, hopefully we can continue to build into our existing departments and develop new, innovative recreation programs for students!

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