Community rec leaders share their successes of 2023 and what they believe will be popular in 2024.
Coming out of the turbulent times of the pandemic has sparked changes in the community rec industry. The general population has adopted new mindsets, hobbies and interests surrounding their health and community. Leaders must stay on top of these trends.
At the YMCA of the North, Betsy Grams, the vice president of Y Adventure, has witnessed the rebounding interest in group activities and programming surrounding health and wellness.
“Being ‘in community’ and back in person after the pandemic continues to be a growing trend,” said Grams. “Members want to meet friends for walks, bike rides and more fun activities. Children are participating in nature-based school to learn more about the environment. By having these experiences, they pay attention to all aspects of mental and social health.”
Holistic well-being is a trend the YMCA of the North is embracing through programming. Its mission is to cater to all member’s needs in both individual or shared offerings, and digital or in-person wellness experiences.
While the pandemic required many organizations to adapt by embracing technology to combat isolation, rec centers are answering members’ need to return outdoors in groups.
For Cottonwood Parks and Rec, sports like spec tennis and disc golf have grown in demand because they require a group of people and are played outside. Other programming like kayaking, tubing and ATV riding have also increased. Finally, Jak Teel, the director of community services, predicted playground vendors will see an increase in business in the upcoming year.
“I don’t think there will be a new major introduction but rather a resurgence of outdoor activity,” explained Teel. “People will start to attend more outdoor programs — passive and active — as group events go back on the rise. Our community has sorely missed that aspect and has been trying to find all of the opportunities to be together again.”
Trends can be deceptive due to promising short-term goal fulfillment. However, to truly implement successful, new programming the “why” must be evaluated.
“When implementing new trends, focus on the community’s needs,” advised Teel. “Rec centers should be a place to create experiences and help cultivate community. Know the makeup of your membership and try to provide enough opportunity to allow everyone to get involved and have a place in your facility.”
At the Harrisburg Area YMCA, Rosie Turner, the executive director of experience, has also seen an increased demand for programming. In fact, members are requesting more parent-child programming, swim lessons and general in-person events.
“The work of the Y is more important than ever as families and friends are returning in big numbers,” said Turner. “Lots of kids missed out on the competency and skill-building levels due to service interruptions. Parent-child experiences at older ages — not just preschool — have emerged due to loss of opportunity at younger ages. We as supervisors will be seeking these kinds of gap-filling measures in all areas.”
Technology was another important factor Turner has her attention on. For example, she noted how people are consuming entertainment differently as most carry personal smartphones wherever they go. Instead of rec centers needing to provide entertainment through TVs or overhead speakers, members bring their own.
“What current consumers want is great Wi-Fi so they can use their own devices and choose the content for their workout,” explained Turner. “Rec centers with fitness areas need to pay attention to how many users are using Wi-Fi and make sure they have a reliable, strong signal.”
Staying on top of trends involves keeping tabs on discussions across social media platforms. Paying attention to the opinions of present and future members is vital for ensuring growth in the right direction.
For example, surveying on Facebook gives members a say in the changes and renovations of the spaces they’re using. In addition, addressing negative reviews online helps the Harrisburg Area Y’s leadership team identify the most requested areas for improvement. Turner encourages her staff to adopt a growth mindset and interpret negative reviews as a chance to develop.
Digital networking with other industry experts on platforms like LinkedIn expands Turner’s support network as well. She also advises paying attention to industry publications to continue fostering a growth mindset and stay up to date with best practices.
“You can find articles, make connections and challenge your existing plans through digital networking,” explained Turner. “Since I work in physical buildings with onsite staff, I often forget the digital education opportunities because I’d rather be out connecting with our members. It’s just as important to know who you can message or email with a question. I’ve found major value in keeping up with colleagues via social media.”