A Paradigm Shift

By Jon McChesney

The Wall Street Journal (July 11, 2017) featured an article titled “The Rise of the Free 5K” that discussed Parkrun, a grassroots program developed and delivered by non-parks and rec staff. Rachel Bachman writes, “It’s called Parkrun, and it’s very simple. Participants register online once and print out a personal bar code. They bring the bar code to a participating park where 5K runs are held every Saturday. The registrants run—or walk—the course, scan their bar code with a volunteer at the finish, then head to a nearby coffee shop to hang out with other Parkrunners. There are no road closures or finish-line ceremonies; it runs every week and it costs nothing.”

A Model Program
Empowering community members to develop recreation programs can be a winning formula, given the tradition of limited resources in parks and recreation agencies. Changing the paradigm of operation from direct-services provider to a facilitator role is resource-savvy and can lead to a more robust menu of recreation program offerings. For example, F3, representing Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith, is a non-profit and volunteer-led exercise group, now in 18 states with over 15,000 participants in this free program. It has five core principles.

F3 workouts:

  • Are free of charge
  • Are open to all men
  • Are held outdoors, rain or shine, heat or cold
  • Are led by men who participate in the workout in a rotating fashion, with no training or certification necessary
  • End with a Circle of Trust.

Feeding The Time Famine
By empowering stakeholders, many additional recreation programs can be delivered at times that are convenient, which is particularly important given the time crunch that many people report. For example, I created the EKU Tennis Fellowship, a time-sensitive group while teaching in North Carolina and again upon my arrival at Eastern Kentucky University because I wanted to play tennis at my convenience rather than at a time prescribed by a parks department league. This program was simple to create—an email blast was sent across the campus asking people if they would like to participate. If they wanted to join, they simply had to provide a preferred means of being contacted and their USTA (or self) ranking. The next step was to create a listing of beginning, intermediate, and advanced players and send that contact information to participants so they could coordinate matches around their schedules. Once or twice a year, the fellowship hosts a day when participants arrive “en masse,” meet members, and play matches. In essence, this tennis fellowship is merely a database of players in the area, with no associated fee.

It is no secret that myriad groups are delivering recreation programs in various communities. In an article titled “The Fallacy of Our Programs,” Thomas Goodale writes, “Churches, schools, private agencies, industries, commercial enterprises, and governments at all levels are providing recreation programs, sometimes tripping over themselves and each other in the process.” As a profession, we can do something about such tripping! Perhaps it is time for a municipal recreation agency to operate more as a clearing-house of programs and services than direct-service provider. In other words, become the information hub for all things recreational in your community, and really champion the efforts of all groups and agencies that are trying to make a difference in the quality of life of those in the area. The Parkrun, F3, and tennis fellowship concepts could be applied to any recreational activity, from playing guitar to people over 60 looking to play basketball to a Monopoly league. Empower your community to dramatically expand recreation program offerings and change the paradigm of operation!

Dr. Jon McChesney is a professor and chair for the Department of Recreation & Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University. Reach him at Jon.Mcchesney@EKU.EDU.