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Recreation Fitness Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Fitness and Recreation Career and Job Highlights

  • Fitness and recreation professionals enjoy both seasonal and part-time job opportunities, competitive full-time recreation career positions, and favorable job prospects
  • To begin a fitness career, certification is usually required
  • A recreation career requires education ranging from a high school diploma to a graduate degree.

Fitness and Recreation Career Overview

fitness workers include planning and directing organized recreational activities, such as sports, arts and crafts, performing arts, aerobics, and camping. These activities are located in local recreation areas, community centers, parks, health clubs, playgrounds, religious organizations, tourist attractions, theme parks, and camps. Various workplaces also employ recreational and fitness workers to plan and direct athletic programs and leisure activities for their employees.

Various jobs ranging from entry-level to advanced positions are available in the recreation field. The responsibilities of Recreation leaders include scheduling facilities, supervising the proper use of equipment and recreation facilities, giving instruction in games, sports, crafts, drama, and dance, and keeping records of equipment use. They are responsible for the daily operation of a recreation program. Activity specialists provide instruction in specialized areas such as drama, tennis, swimming, music, and art. A Recreation supervisor oversees major activities including performing arts, gymnastics, and aquatics. These workers meet the needs of various populations by managing and planning recreational activities that are unique to each group.

Supervisors not only direct recreation leaders, but also function as the link between recreation leaders and the directors of recreation centers or parks. Directors of recreation and parks are in charge of developing inclusive recreation programs found in playgrounds and parks. Directors are often responsible for the budgets of parks and recreation and can be technical advisors to park commissions and local and State recreation.

Duties of camp counselors include giving specialized instruction in activities such as computers, drama, boating, gymnastics, music, tennis, and archery. Counselors instruct and guide teenagers and children in outdoor recreation including hiking, camping, swimming, and horseback riding. Counselors oversee socialization, daily living, and offer guidance in resident camps. Camp counselors are supervised by camp directors who execute the administrative tasks and plan the programs and activities of a camp.

Fitness workers coach and teach individuals and groups in exercise activities such as yoga, karate, weightlifting, and aerobics. Fitness workers typically specialize in only a few areas since health clubs and gyms offer such a wide variety of activities. Aerobic instructors teach group classes for muscle conditioning, aerobic exercise, and stretching. Fitness trainers work with clients, evaluating their physical fitness level and helping them develop and achieve fitness goals. They help their clients learn proper exercise techniques by demonstrating different exercises and assess progress by maintaining records of each exercise session. A client may request one-on-one training with a personal trainer in a gym or in the client’s home. Fitness directors create programs catering to the needs of their members as well as manage the operations of their fitness center or health club.

Job Skills, Qualification and Training

The qualifications and training for a recreation worker spans from a high school diploma or less for an entry level job to an advanced degree for administrative positions. A college degree in leisure studies or parks and recreation is necessary for a full-time professional career; however, for some private positions, a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts is adequate. Frequently called “employee services,” industrial recreation differs from other recreation jobs because it requires both a background in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in leisure studies or recreation.

Certification is necessary to teach certain recreation activities. Coaching water-related activities exemplifies this because a lifesaving certificate is mandatory. Experience or specialized training is considered an asset for getting jobs in fields such as drama, athletics, music, and art. Occasionally, high school graduates begin a career in recreation; however, this is unusual. While earning their degrees, college students often work in part-time positions, gaining experience in the recreation field. A career in recreation may be started by a graduate with an associate degree in a human service discipline, in parks and recreation, or in social work.

The majority of higher level administration positions and recreation supervisor jobs require experience along with a bachelor’s degree. A growing number of recreation workers acquire advanced degrees in parks and recreation in order to obtain administrative positions. Recreation field certification also can assist career advancement. Other fields that pursue advanced degrees in recreation include resource management, social work, and forestry.

Several hundred universities and colleges offer bachelor’s and associate degrees in leisure studies, parks and recreation, and various related fields. Master’s and doctoral programs are also offered at numerous schools. Accreditation was given by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) to 100 parks and recreation bachelor’s degree programs in 2002. In these accredited programs, students specialize in such areas as outdoor recreation, therapeutic recreation, camp management, park management, and commercial or industrial recreation. These programs introduce students to the theory, history, and practice of park and recreation administration while offering courses including supervised fieldwork, recreational needs of special populations (disabled or elderly), supervision and administration, community organization. The NRPA also offers recreation field certification, which requires continuing education to retain certification.

Aerobic instructors and fitness trainers typically obtain certification in the fitness field. A variety of certifications are offered by various organizations including weight training, aerobics, and personal training. Workers typically must recertify every two years, which is usually accomplished by attending continuing education classes. Certain certifications such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and first aid are often required to become a fitness worker.

A bachelor’s degree in physical education, exercise science, or in a fitness or health related field is now being required to be a fitness worker by a growing number of employers. While some employers require certification and a degree, others will substitute certification for a college degree. To obtain promotion to fitness center or heath club management positions, experience, along with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physical education, exercise science, or a related area of study are all required. It is common for fitness trainers to also work as personal trainers or to eventually open their own health clubs or fitness centers.

To obtain a career in fitness or recreation, it is essential for workers to have impeccable physical fitness and health. A motivational, outgoing, and caring personality is also important because of the personal interaction each job requires. A summer job, volunteer experience, or part-time work can be helpful in obtaining a full-time career as a recreation worker. Managerial and supervisory positions require managerial skills. These skills can be gained by taking college courses in accounting, administration, personnel management, and business administration.

Job Outlook for Recreation and Fitness Professionals

The recreation field is very competitive due to the large number of job applicants, yet limited number of career positions in contrast to the large number of seasonal entry-level jobs. Those with part-time recreation or seasonal experience and training are more likely to obtain staff positions. Administrative and supervisor positions typically are offered to those with graduate degrees. A fitness worker has more opportunities for employment than a recreation worker because of the rapidly growing size of the industry; however, job openings are available for recreation workers as well as fitness workers every year because of the rapid turnover of workers leaving the occupation.

As people spend more time and money on fitness and recreation, and as businesses increasingly offer wellness, fitness, and recreation programs to their employees, job availability for fitness and recreation workers is expected to increase as much or more than the average occupation through 2012. The average growth of the recreation field reflects civic, social, and local government growth. These organizations are responsible for providing jobs for over 50% of the industry. However, restrictions on local government budgets may cause inhibited growth of employment for recreation workers during the 2002–2012 projection period. In contrast, fitness careers are growing faster than average, as fitness activities, personal training, and aerobics instruction continue to gain popularity.

For those wanted exposure to the recreation field, numerous seasonal, temporary jobs are available. College or high school students with the necessary personal qualities are perfect for these positions since formal education is not required. Although the salary is lower than in most other fields, employers usually have no problem acquiring student labor as many people enjoy working in the outdoors and the overall work environment.