By Bill Salvatore
Photos: Kendrick Recreation Center and Houston Playgrounds
If you were to sit down with a group of recreation programmers and ask what new and exciting programs they offer, most—if not all—would provide a youth-oriented answer. This makes total sense, since the majority of us serve the school-age population through after-school programs and summer camps. But we sometimes fail to remember that adults also frequent rec centers and parks.
When it comes to adult programs, two things immediately jump out at me. First, in Philadelphia—and perhaps in other cities—sports and social clubs have become all the rage. These organizations charge a ridiculous amount of money for their programs as well as attempt to take away precious field time—not only from adult programs, but youth programs as well. Second, the majority of adult programmers fall into the millennial category, meaning we should start gearing adult programs for that generation. Using these two factors, we tweaked a few adult programs and created a new program to better serve the adult population.
We looked at what was successful in the current programs as well as those in the past, and worked on ways to enhance them. For instance, a typical roller-hockey league is 10 games, consisting of three 15-minute periods, with playoffs and a championship. But it is tough to play outdoor roller-hockey between Thanksgiving and Easter. Using an “Iron Man” format, we were able to squeeze a full season into a single weekend. Everyone got their hockey fix, and we added adult programming in the winter and early spring. The format is simple: each team has four players and a goalie; they play in a pool of teams with each game lasting 20 minutes. After pool play is done, there is a single-elimination tournament. In this way, each team is guaranteed to play four times during the course of the day. We also flirted with the idea of a triple-elimination tournament, but pool play was the overwhelming favorite. The quick format suits the millennials, and the fact we kept the cost low (enough to cover refs, shirts, and championship hoodies) makes it easy to compete with sports and social groups.
In slow-pitch softball, we were looking for a way to get in a high number of games in a short amount of time, so we made it a single-pitch league and/or tournament. A batter gets one pitch … hit it, walk, strike out, or foul out! A 9-inning game (formerly 7 innings) can be finished in 45 minutes or less. Even better—there’s no sitting around waiting for “your pitch.” We actually went a little further by allowing teams three at-bats at a time. Basically, a team bats, makes three outs, clears the bases, then bats again. We allow the visiting team three at-bats, the home team three at-bats, and then we do it all over again. There were actually games when the walk in and out to the field was longer than the at-bats!
Iron Team Tournament
Our crowning achievement, the “Iron Team Tournament,” combines the two tweaks above with many more adult-inspired activities. Here is how it works: teams of 12 (eight men, four women) compete in an all-day round-robin consisting of co-ed volleyball, co-ed soccer, three-on-three men’s and women’s basketball, bag toss (“Baggo”), single-pitch softball, hockey, and tennis. This is why it’s the “Iron Team”—some of these events are going on simultaneously. For instance, a team may have to choose three men and three women to play basketball while the other six players are at volleyball. So every player on every team is playing in 20-plus events in an 8-hour period. We awarded medals for every event, and the grand champions (top overall team) received medals and an open bar at one of our sponsors. One of the reasons this event was a huge success was the flooding of social media. Using a portion of the entry fee, we paid a local high school student to Facebook, Instagram, Tweet, and Vine everything that was going on that day a few times each hour. We received additional community involvement by hiring other students as scorekeepers, and we used all local referees to officiate the games.
All of these events were successful due to the buy-in from the participants and community, as well as the organization by the staff members. Tweaks can be made to any existing programs to better serve the population in your area. Just remember the audience, the programs that work, and the community, and your unique program will be successful!
Bill Salvatore, CPSI, is the recreation leader for the Kendrick Recreation Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Reach him at Bill.Salvatore@phila.gov.