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Oklahoma State University

Recreation Management/Recreational Therapy Careers

Recreation, Parks and Recreational Therapy

Professional careers in recreation and leisure services offer challenging, meaningful and highly rewarding opportunities. Whether you are interested in working with children, teens, adults or seniors — engaging in outdoor adventure, cultural arts, sports or social activities — in hospital/clinical settings, theme parks or the military — then recreation and leisure services offers job opportunities for you.


Outdoor adventure education is a term used to describe recreational programs that contain elements of challenge, thrill, stress, risk or adventure. Some of the activities commonly associated with such programs include mountaineering, spelunking, kayaking, wilderness camping, rock climbing and ropes courses. Agencies look for persons with previous outdoor leadership experience and technical training. The minimum medical training for an outdoor leader is Wilderness First Responder; other required/desired certifications include Leave No Trace and specific skill-related certifications (e.g., challenge course training, climbing, rappelling, back country travel, canoeing).

Adventure Recreation Resources and Professional Associations:

  • American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
  • American Camp Association
  • Association for Experiential Education
  • Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
  • National Recreation and Park Association
  • Wilderness Education Association


Commercial recreation includes any for profit business designed to provide leisure-related services and products to the public. Many are independently operated establishments. A partial list of businesses that meet this definition would include resorts, hotels, cruise ships, amusement and theme parks, bowling centers, theaters, ice and roller skating arenas, waterparks, campgrounds, ski facilities, marinas, museums, aquariums, zoos, play centers, aquatic centers, health/athletic clubs and equipment retailers. Personal skills and attributes needed in commercial recreation include effective communication with guests, staff and investors, self-motivation, self-confidence, flexibility, creativity, patience, leadership and organization.

Commercial Recreation Resources and Professional Associations

  • American Association of Zoo Keepers
  • American Bowling Congress
  • American Zoo and Aquarium Association
  • International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions
  • International Association of Family Entertainment Centers
  • National Ski Areas Association
  • Professional Pool Operators of America
  • World Waterpark Association
  • Resort and Commercial Recreation Association


The major intent of correctional recreation is to provide leisure and recreation programs that will aid the offender’s adjustment to incarceration and lead to a more productive leisure lifestyle upon their return to society. The range of correctional agencies employing recreation professionals extends from federal and state institutions to local and private treatment facilities. Work settings include penitentiaries, work farms, camps, juvenile detention centers and group homes. Certification as a parks and recreation professional is a preferred qualification as are certifications in first aid, CPR, child abuse and blood borne pathogens. Background checks are required.

Correctional Recreation Resources and Professional Associations

  • American Correctional Association
  • Correctional Education Association


Employee services provide programs that add to the quality of life for employees. Some companies offer organized recreation programs such as softball leagues and arts and crafts classes while others focus on wellness, special events and travel services in addition to dependent care and voluntary benefits. Programs and facilities vary from company to company. Certification as a parks and recreation professional is becoming either mandatory or a preferred qualification to many positions in the field as are certifications in first aid, CPR, blood borne pathogens and skill-specific training (e.g. aerobics instructor).

Employee Services Resources and Professional Associations

  • Association of Worksite Health Promotions
  • Employee Services Management Association


Arena, auditoriums/theater, amphitheater, convention center and professional sport stadium management is a growing field in the spectrum of recreation professional careers. Professional opportunities include administration, operations, marketing and box office. Typical positions in entertainment venues include guest services, event operations, event coordinators, community relations, box office operations, sales, client services, suite managers, facilities management, marketing, communications and operations management. Typical positions in sport teams/venues may include event sponsorship, promotions, camps and clinics, advertising, marketing and sales.

Entertainment and Sports Venue Resources and Professional Associations

  • International Association of Assembly Managers
  • Sportsplex Operators and Developers Association


A career in event management may include settings such as corporations, fairs and festivals, arenas, museums, zoos, attractions, cultural centers, special event companies, convention and visitor bureaus, non-profit associations and theme parks. Events may include anything from a small meeting to large parties and conventions; from programs at parks to world fairs and community festivals; from cultural and sport events to business and political events. Important skills in event management include effective communication, critical thinking, problem solving, goal setting, integrity, experience and a positive attitude. There are several professional certifications available to individuals in the event management industry. Some of these include Certified Meeting Planner (CMP), Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP), Certified Festival Executive (CFE) and Certified Exposition Manager (CEM).

Event Management Resources and Professional Associations

  • International Association for Exposition Management
  • International Festival and Events Association
  • Internationals Special Events Society
  • Meeting Planners International


Facilities managers work with both indoor and outdoor facilities. These may include gymnasiums, bowling centers, community centers, museums, art galleries, auditoriums, theaters, dance pavilions, arenas, tennis courts, athletic fields, picnic areas, family campgrounds, ice skating rinks, swimming pools, public and resort beaches, archery ranges, shooting ranges, ski slopes, golf courses, zoos and marinas among others. Facilities management is generally divided into two categories: the public sector and the private or commercial sector. Public recreation may be city and county levels or schools and colleges. Private or commercial recreation facilities operate for a profit and are usually a closed membership association or club. Professionals need a working knowledge of maintenance associated with facilities; accessibility; a knowledge of preparing, presenting and administering an effective budget; the ability to determine personnel needs, recruiting, hiring, assigning; and directing the work of staff members including preparing job descriptions; and the ability to conceptualize and put into action a varied range of recreation programs and activities. Some background in marketing and accounting is also helpful. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for facility managers and some positions require advanced degrees.

Facility Management Resources and Professional Associations

  • Facility Management Association
  • International Facility Management Association


Military recreation provides for U.S. armed forces and their dependents (family members) a range of programs similar to those found in community leisure service settings—and, these programs and services are provided by civilian employees. The services and programs are generally part of the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program. One of the attractions a military recreation specialist enjoys is the diversity of work settings, including overseas. Most military areas offer a mix of youth and family programming, athletic fields, courts and gyms, bowling centers, fitness centers, clubs, theaters, pools, hobby areas, community centers, outdoor recreation activities, rental programs and trips and travel centers. A college degree and background checks are required for professionals working in this setting.

Military Recreation Resources and Professional Associations

  • Armed Forces Recreation Society - NRPA
  • Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
  • Department of Defense - Office of Morale, Welfare and Recreation


Outdoor recreation agencies at the national, state and local levels all offer career opportunities for individuals wishing to work in outdoor settings managing parks, forests, conservation districts, wildlife refuges and other outdoor areas set aside for recreational use. Positions in natural resources management vary widely among agencies and states but typically include the following: Recreation Forester, Park Planner, Park Ranger, Naturalist, Ranger Police, Superintendent of Parks, Resource Manager, Turf Specialist, Park Specialist, Conservation Police Officer and Site Superintendent. Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree; many require advanced degrees. Additional specialty certifications may be required (CLEET, Turf Management).

Natural Resource Management Resources and Professional Associations

  • Army Corps of Engineers - Department of Defense
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs - Department of the Interior
  • Bureau of Land Management - Department of the Interior
  • National Association of State Park Directors
  • National Park Service - Department of the Interior
  • National Society for Park Resources - NRPA
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service - Department of the Interior
  • United States Forest Service - Department of Agriculture


Outdoor Education is commonly defined as “education in, about and for the out-of-doors.” Outdoor Recreation, on the other hand, covers a broad spectrum of leisure experiences that relate to using, understanding and/or appreciating natural resources. These may include hiking, swimming, boating, cycling, walking, bird watching or camping. Organized camping differs in that it consists of education and recreation activities led by trained leaders in an outdoor setting with emphasis on individual development and group living. Camps can be residential or day camps, operated by private individuals, youth agencies, churches or government agencies. Environmental Interpretation is usually associated with visitor centers in state and national parks. The Interpreter helps visitors learn about and understand the environment as well as develop an enthusiasm for learning about nature. Examples of outdoor positions would include Camp Director, Tour Guide, Nature Leader, Museum Director, Park Ranger, Resort Owner/Operator, Interpretive Naturalist, Nature Center Programmer, Ski Lodge Operator and River Trip Guide. Generally, a college degree, skill-specific certifications and some level of first aid/CPR training are minimums for these positions.

Outdoor Recreation / Education Resources and Professional Associations

  • American Camp Association
  • Association for Experiential Education
  • Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
  • International Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education
  • National Association for Interpretation
  • National Forest Recreation Association
  • National Recreation and Park Association


The most common types of private clubs are country clubs, golf clubs, fitness/health clubs, tennis/racquet clubs, ski clubs, hunting/fishing clubs and yacht clubs. Depending on the focus of the club, a recreation professional can become employed in any one or a combination of the following areas: recreation activities, aquatics, special/social events, member services, tennis, equestrian, sports, youth/teen, tours/excursions, fitness/health, retail, child care, golf and entertainment. Typical roles or positions a recreation professional can play in a private club setting include recreation leader, marketing, public relations, retail, tour coordinator, instructor/trainer, coach, sales, member services, facility management, special events and owner. The recreation professional who chooses to work in the private club industry may become a Certified Club Manager (CCM).

Private Clubs and Fitness Centers Resources and Professional Associations

  • Aerobics and fitness Association of America
  • American Ski Club Association
  • Club Managers Association of America
  • International Fitness Association
  • International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association
  • National Association for Health and Fitness


Community recreation is generally thought of as municipal park and recreation agencies, but it may also include county agencies, unincorporated communities and other areas with a definable population. There is a growing emphasis on planned recreation rather than spontaneous individual recreation as people have moved from rural to more urban and suburban settings. Professional positions vary widely and may include administration, recreation supervision, inclusive recreation, aquatics, horticulture, therapeutics, athletics, golf course management, skateboard/rollerblade park management, ice rink management, planning and developing, park management, interpretive and outdoor program management, zoological management and cultural arts programming. Certification as a parks and recreation professional is becoming either mandatory or a preferred qualification to many positions in the field as are certifications in first aid, CPR, child abuse, blood borne pathogens and youth sports coaching training. Background checks are often required.

Community Recreation/Recreational Sports Resources and Professional Associations

  • Adaptive Sports Associations
  • American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
  • National Association of Youth Sports
  • National Disability Sports Alliance
  • National Intramurals - Recreation Sports Association
  • National Recreation and Park Association
  • State Parks and Recreation Society


Resorts offer a variety of employment opportunities that can include aquatics, special events, guest services, conference services, tennis, equestrian, sports, youth/teen, tour/excursion, fitness, retail, health/spa, child care, golf and entertainment. The most common training for an individual entering the field of resort recreation is an education in commercial recreation/tourism and because resorts are for-profit hospitality agencies; coursework in business and hospitality is helpful. The resort professional may choose to become a Certified Commercial Recreation Professional (CCRP).

Resort Recreation Resources and Professional Associations

  • American Gaming Association
  • American Hotel and Lodging Association
  • American Resort Development Association
  • Association of Retirement Resorts, International
  • Cruise Line International Association
  • Dude Ranchers Association
  • Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International
  • Resort and Commercial Recreation Association
  • Resort Properties International


A senior center is a community facility where older persons, as individuals or in groups, come together for services and activities that enhance their dignity, support their independence and encourage their involvement within the community. Senior center programs consist of a variety of services and activities including health and wellness programs, meals and nutrition programs, recreational opportunities, transportation services, arts programs, volunteer opportunities, inter-generational programs, special events, employee assistance and education opportunities. Other related areas of employment include adult day care centers, long-term care including nursing homes and medical care facilities, homes for the aged and retirement centers including apartment and communal living. A degree in Therapeutic Recreation, Sociology or Gerontology is often preferred; typical certifications include CTRS, first aid/CPR and site-specific training (e.g., transfer skills). Background checks are also commonly required.

Senior Centers Resources and Professional Associations

  • Administration on Aging - Department of Health and Human Services
  • Leisure and Aging Section - NRPA


College Student Unions often include such facilities as arts/crafts centers, auditoriums, meeting rooms, galleries, theaters, billiards and bowling as well as student activity centers. The duties of the professional staff in College Unions may include advising various student organizations, being a resource person or serving as an instructor for programs. Management of these centers requires managerial and technical skills for operating indoor/outdoor recreation programs, building operations, personnel-labor relations, marketing, advertising, accounting and budgeting. Campus Recreation Centers provide sports and fitness activities for students, faculty and staff. A recreational sports program may offer such diverse activities as team sports (flag football, basketball, softball, etc.), individual and dual sports (racquetball, tennis, golf, etc.), sports clubs (rugby, Frisbee, chess, etc.), free-time leisure pursuits and a variety of fitness activities, outdoor pursuits, special events and activities for individuals with disabilities. Employers are interested in recreation, parks and leisure studies graduates with strong backgrounds in programming, administration, finance and facility management. Extracurricular activities and involvements during college can provide the type of experience that many employers look for when hiring for these positions. For supervisory positions, a master’s degree is often required; a professional may be certified as a Certified Recreational Sports Specialist (CRSS).

Student Unions/Campus Recreation Resources and Professional Associations

  • Association of College Unions International
  • National Association for Campus Activities
  • National Intramural - Recreation Sports Association


Recreational Therapy has been designated by the United States Department of Labor as the twelfth fastest growing occupation in the country. The Recreational Therapy option in the Recreation Management/Recreational Therapy major leads to a Bachelor of Science degree and prepares students to work with persons with disabilities in a variety of settings including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, day programs, mental health facilities, and community-based settings. Over 80% of employment opportunities in Oklahoma are in the areas of mental health and physical rehabilitation. 

Therapeutic Recreation Resources and Professional Associations


The travel and tourism industry has jobs in travel agencies, resorts, the airline industry, amusement/theme parks, tour companies, travel information services, time-share management services, campgrounds, hotel/motel management and public/private promotion organizations. The growth of travel and tourism greatly impacts local economies and as this trend continues to grow, more colleges are offering curriculum tracks in the travel/tourism area. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most entry-level positions. Presently, positions can be found in state and local travel bureaus, convention centers, convention and visitor bureaus, chamber of commerce offices and similar agencies.

Travel and Tourism Resources and Professional Associations

  • Adventure Travel Trade Association
  • American Society of Travel Agents
  • Association of Corporate Travel Executives
  • International Association of Conference Centers
  • International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus
  • International Association of Tour Managers
  • National Tour Association


Voluntary and youth serving agencies provide many innovative and special activities for young people. They are generally non-tax supported and provide programs that serve the public. Professionals need to be especially skilled in working with and training volunteers for such tours of service. The nature of the work may be a mixture of recreation, education, social work and camping. Boy Scout and Girl Scouts are examples of programs that have diversified settings such as homes, camps and communities. Professionals will be involved in fund-raising process and campaigns. Organized camps play a major part in work for the YMCA or related agencies. One important aspect is training volunteers who will provide face-to-face leadership for the participants. High moral standards typify activities within youth-serving agencies and high moral standards are demanded of full-time leaders within these movements. A bachelor’s degree with recreation and youth development as a focus is valued as are related certifications in areas such as first aid, CPR, child development. Background checks are typically required.

Voluntary Agencies / Youth Organizations Resources and Professional Associations

  • Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of America
  • Campfire Boys and Girls
  • Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
  • Girls Incorporated
  • Jewish Community Center Association
  • National 4-H Council
  • YMCA of the U.S.A.
  • YWCA U.S.A.

Material is from the website of Western Illinois University Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration program. The material was originally adapted from Careers in Recreation by Roger L. Coles and published by the American Association for Leisure and Recreation, formerly an Association of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.