3 Trends to Impact Parks and Recreation in Winter 2021

3 Trends to Impact Parks and Recreation in Winter 2021

Over the past year, parks and recreation centers have gotten better and better at pivoting their programs to meet their community’s needs and the current health regulations. Despite your ability to successfully adjust programs, your community organization might find the continued uncertainties of the future daunting, especially when it comes to planning events and improving participant retention.

That’s why knowing the trends on the horizon can inspire you with ideas to help fill your calendar with events and programs that your community will want to attend. It’s important to note that these trends aren’t just for the winter season — they’re likely to extend into next year as well. Therefore, following these trends now will only set your community organization up for success down the line. When planning programs for winter 2021, you should consider the following: 

  1. Offer flexible program options. 
  2. Focus on mental-health related programs. 
  3. Digitize recreation operations.

The uncertainties of the future might seem overwhelming and that’s why hands-on management and organization — skills that have always mattered — are more important than ever. Preparing well in advance, asking for feedback, and even using recreation management software can significantly improve your ability to plan excellent events and adapt to necessary changes. 

1. Offer flexible program options.

Virtual programs have made connecting with others during the pandemic much easier, and it’s likely that these online programs are here to stay. Not only do virtual events broaden the reach of your recreation programming, but they also offer convenience and safety to those living nearby. 

For this reason, it’s highly recommended that your parks and recreation center offers in-person, online, and hybrid programs. This way, you can engage all participants, even if they live far away or have different comfort levels with in-person programs and events. 

Hybrid events are the ideal option, as they offer the most flexibility for attendees. You will also have more activity options because the program won’t be limited to just in-person or just virtual activities. 

However, hybrid events do require more thorough preparation from your staff. Here are some tips for planning hybrid events: 

  • Allow for online registration and payment: Regardless if participants attend in-person or virtually, you should allow them to register and pay online. This way, attendees won’t have to come to your facility to sign up and pay, streamlining registration for participants and staff. It’s even better if you have an integrated payment processor, which makes it easier to manage transactions.
  • Include in-person-focused and virtual-focused activities: Although you will have in-person and virtual attendees, it’s a good idea to develop unique activities for each group. This will allow in-person guests and virtual participants to connect with attendees participating in the same format as them, thus creating a more intimate experience for both groups. For example, the in-person group could solve a big puzzle for an icebreaker while the virtual group plays an online game together.
  • Plan well in advance: Hybrid events require a lot of logistical coordination. Consider creating a schedule, and then perform a test run of all activities before the event. Be sure to test all of your technology as well!
  • Keep it outside when possible: For your in-person component, try to keep the event outside when possible. Doing so reduces the risk of viral transmission while encouraging participants to enjoy the great outdoors.

If you’re not sure where to start with event ideas, this CommunityPass guide to managing parks and recreation programs during the pandemic can help you get started.

Flexible program options allow for more participants to get involved without having to do something they’re uncomfortable with, and hybrid events in particular offer the most variety for any type of participant.

2. Focus on mental health-related programs.

The pandemic has had negative effects on mental health, specifically by heightening feelings of isolation and loneliness. As the leader of a parks and recreation center or other community organization, you have the ability to help by offering mental health resources.

Mental health programs not only benefit the community, but they also are likely to become an integral part of parks and recreation centers’ offerings. In fact, Allison Colman, the National Parks and Recreation Association’s Director of Health has said, “Parks and recreation will play a greater role in supporting mental health and well-being, amplifying recent efforts to address trauma and substance use disorders.”

There are lots of programs that focus on mental health. Here are some popular options: 

  • Stress or anxiety management workshops
  • Exercise programs
  • Art classes
  • Outdoor nature events
  • Meditation practices

Each of these programs can also occur in a socially distanced or virtual setting, which can encourage more participants to attend. Plus, mental health programs encourage your community to connect on a deeper emotional level. 

Lastly, it’s important to remember that mental health-related programs have certain requirements that other programs do not. For example, you will need to thoroughly vet potential staff and volunteers to ensure they are properly qualified to handle sensitive mental health issues. You might also require them to go through extensive training so they know how to handle potential emergencies. 

3. Digitize recreation operations. 

No matter what type of events you decide to offer, it’s essential that your organization digitizes its recreation operations. While many organizations were already moving towards full digitization prior to the pandemic, new safety measures made the transition a priority. 

While you likely already use spreadsheets or other information management tools, comprehensive recreation software can help you and your team members achieve more without pouring hours into data entry. 

However, finding the right software for your organization is challenging. What features should you look for? What difference will they make for your staff? Some of the digital tools that can streamline your parks and recreation center’s operations include: 

  • Online registration and payment: Everything is easier when it’s digitized, especially registering and paying for events. With online registration and payment, your participants can sign up and pay for programs from the comfort of their homes and your staff will have an easily accessible list of attendees.
  • Centralized online forms and waivers: Online forms, policies, and waivers that are integrated with registrations allow participants to sign any necessary paperwork from the comfort of their homes right when they sign up. Plus, this makes it easier for staff to verify that all attendees have done everything they need to get started with your program. 
  • Mobile responsiveness: The right software should allow you and your staff to stay connected even from mobile devices. This way, you and your community have access to your recreation registration and payment site no matter your location.
  • Integrated messaging: Communicate with participants with the touch of a button. With integrated messaging, it’s easy to send personalized emails and/or text messages with important information regarding registration deadlines, upcoming events, and more.
  • Contactless experiences: There are many touch points throughout your program, including check-in, registration, payment, and check-out. By using software that supports contactless experiences, facilitating these touch points will be easier and safer than ever by reducing contact between participants and staff.
  • Comprehensive reporting: With comprehensive reporting features, you can obtain valuable data about registration, revenue, attendance, and whatever else is essential to your operations.

Ultimately, it’s recommended to invest in a 100% cloud-based SaaS platform. This means that your staff can work from anywhere at any time, providing the flexibility that organizations need to function, especially as potential uncertainties continue to influence day-to-day operations.

This list of features is by no means exhaustive, but it does provide valuable insight into what digitizing your recreation operations can do. Not only will participants have a more seamless experience, but your staff will spend less time on administrative tasks and more time doing what they love — engaging and connecting with the community. 

Preparing for the winter season might seem challenging due to unpredictable obstacles that can disrupt your carefully laid plans. However, by knowing some of the upcoming trends, you can get ahead of the curve and adequately prepare for whatever may come your way. Plus, equipping your staff with the right recreation software can go a long way to keep everyone organized and on-task to finish the year strong.

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