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Recreation professionals must break from tradition when programming for baby boomers

This is an excerpt from Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers by Lynda Cochran,Anne Rothschadl & Jodi Rudick.

Guidelines for Baby Boomer Leisure Programming

With bodies aging but spirits still strong, baby boomers, as we emphasize throughout this book, are changing the face of recreation and leisure in many ways. As baby boomers march toward retirement, keep in mind that at every life stage they have rewritten the rules. They are going to do it again. The boomer generation is going to demand more than what our current senior centers and leisure programs are providing. Boomers will not be satisfied with a "regularly scheduled program" as often found in today's senior centers. Therefore, the approach to leisure programming and use of leisure facilities will have to break from the traditional norms to meet the demands of the baby boomer generation. Recreation professionals will be obligated to develop a large range and scope of adult-focused recreational activities, targeted at a program philosophy that entails the psychological, educational, physiological, social, and demographic interests of this new cohort.

Given the uniqueness of the boomer cohort and the future demand for leisure programs and services, this section presents important guidelines aimed at helping recreation professionals and their departments provide leisure programs and leisure services for the baby boomer cohort. The term guidelines as used in recreation can mean (a) a set of recommended actions to follow in implementing current policies, enabling agencies to enforce those policies; (b) various guiding principles for making recreation department programs safe and enjoyable for all participants; or (c) an organizational measurement designed to increase the quality of programs or facilities. With this in mind, in the following pages we discuss guiding principles based on a clearer philosophical lens derived from the Cochran Baby Boomer Quizzes 1 and 2 (see appendix).

These guiding principles provide recommended actions that we can take in order to meet the challenges associated with the baby boomer cohort. But, although adhering to only traditional theories or past approaches is not recommended, recreation professionals should not forget that the foundation of basic leisure programming concepts can be useful if modified. Therefore, some of the principles presented within this chapter are adapted for the boomer cohort from those that have traditionally appeared in textbooks, recreation program manuals, or similar sources, and also have been developed based on extensive amounts of combined hands-on leisure programming experience on the part of the authors.

Study the Boomer Picture

The baby boomer cohort, those born between 1946 and 1964, has dominated American culture for the past five decades. Every time boomers have taken a step, the spotlight of the media has swiveled to illuminate them. The massive numbers of their generation have amplified and intensified the importance of their experiences at each new moment in their lives. When boomers reach any stage of life, the issues that concern them, whether financial, interpersonal, or even hormonal, have become the dominant social, political, and marketplace themes of the time. Boomers do not just occupy existing life stages or consumer trends-they redefine them.

One of the most important things known about boomers is that they are rule breakers. Individuality over conformity is a consistent pattern among boomers. They have always experienced life differently from the cohorts before them or from those who are following today. Their vast numbers have created fierce competition for everything they have wanted throughout their lives: for school space as children, for team and club memberships as teenagers, for university entrance, for homes and good careers as young adults. Boomers have transformed the food, automobile, and fashion industries; education; the workforce; sex roles and practices; relationships and the institution of the family; health care; technology; and the investment marketplace. As a result, our society has given boomers more attention than any other group.

With all of this in mind, recreation professionals must understand that boomers will also redefine the leisure experience. Much of what is currently known about senior recreation values will be redefined under the boomer generation. Recreation professionals must use a different philosophical lens to learn about this generation-a lens that is focused on key values of this unique cohort:

  • Boomers are concerned about chronic disease and have a desire to do whatever is possible to postpone physical aging.
  • Boomers have increasing amounts of discretionary money as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances, and return on investments (this is true for many of them, but not all).
  • Boomers will need support as they enter into an evident new adult life (retirement) with its own challenges and opportunities.
  • Boomers are undergoing a psychological shift, from a desire to acquire material possessions toward a desire to purchase enjoyable and satisfying experiences, particularly in leisure.
  • Boomers have a continued absence of disposable time due to complex lifestyles; however, their perspective on leisure as a necessity will remain.

Given these five key values, a wide range of opportunities awaits recreation professionals who anticipate and plan for the leisure challenges of the boomer cohort. Since we are only a few years away from the time the first boomer reaches age 65 (year 2011) but also know that many in the boomer generation are retiring soon, we need to know what makes boomers tick and what makes them unique-beyond simply their interests, what they like and do not like. Understanding what drives their interests comes from understanding their value system. An easy way to attain this understanding is to conduct a boomer assessment using tools such as the Cochran Baby Boomer Quiz.

This is an excerpt from Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers.

More Excerpts From Leisure Programming for Baby Boomers