Make Waves

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed all aspects of sports--from competing and coaching to watching games from the stands. While I don’t remember the first time I participated in the “wave,” I do remember the last: the handball games at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The stadium was full of people of various nationalities, ages and races. How or when the wave began, I don’t recall, it just happened.

A Brief Look

In competitive games, the wave is known to almost all everyone. Spectators move their arms up and down, imitating the movement of a wave as it “breaks,” a continuous flow of energy like the natural waves in the ocean. Although there is some debate over the wave’s origin, it is believed a professional cheerleader named George Henderson initiated it in 1981.

The wave is not a typical behavior because there is generally no connection or verbal communication with the people sitting in the rows to the left and right, or on the opposing side of an arena. The beauty of this action is that it somehow brings everyone together in a cooperative act inspired by a common goal--to cheer on the home team. It is a pure expression of collective passion, unleashed.

Stand Up

Practically anyone can start the wave, so long as he or she can capture people’s attention as well as stand up and lead. In a sense, standing up affords the opportunity to communicate an idea and inspire others to help achieve it. It’s not possible to persuade people to be part of the wave by using money because it is likely money would run out before everyone could be paid. Yelling at people in order to persuade them to generate that energy won’t work either. Coercion, as a form of power, will not work, especially for those who are far away. Instead, sharing one’s vision and using communication skills is the only way to create any wave. Of course, the manner in which you approach people will affect the outcome because you will either manage to connect to those around you or not. In Henderson’s case, people followed his lead, not because he was an expert in the field or because he had power, but because they liked what he stood for and the way he banged his drum for it.

Turning The Tide

Now, imagine what can happen if parks and recreation agencies capture the essence and energy of the wave, and create that home-field advantage. I believe that this profession needs a wave--a big one--to form matching perspectives for employees, and convince them to “serve” rather than “work.” For example, when asking two employees about their jobs, one might admit to collecting trash in a park, whereas the other might describe the job as creating a cleaner environment. The latter approach in parks and recreation not only unites a department in a common goal, but also is a testament to the public that everyone is working together to serve.

From a business perspective, companies that are successful are those that have an energy similar to the one generated by the wave. These companies have managed to encourage a culture that allows a wave to happen by instilling a great purpose for employees to fulfill the company’s commitment. Employees look for work environments in which they can grow by developing their skills and enjoy a sense of independence. Once a vision is shared and accepted by employees, amazing things can happen. The wave in a stadium can change the experience for spectators, who then usually cheer louder afterwards--at least I did. I felt more engaged and excited. The wave represents an emotional change in how we act. The world’s athletic phenomenon and a piece of American pop culture is the ticket to redefine our field, strengthen it, and place it where it belongs--in the hearts and minds of people.

Works cited:

Heller, B. (2000). “Innovation Revolution: Don’t vegetate, innovate.” Parks & Recreation 35 (1): 74-82.

Vaira, D. (2009). “What the future holds.” Parks & Recreation 44(9): 71-74.

Tatiana Chalkidou is currently a doctoral student at Oklahoma State University. She holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, and has worked for Athens 2004 Organization Committee during the 2004 Olympics. She can be reached via e-mail at