Networking Strategies for Advancing Your Career in Parks and Recreation

By Rachel Smith, MBA, CPRP | Posted on April 17, 2024

615 NRPA Conference 2023 Dallas

In the dynamic world of parks and recreation, building a robust network can be the key to unlocking exciting opportunities and advancing your career. Whether you’re new to the field or a seasoned professional looking for further challenges, strategic networking is an essential tool for success. There are multiple ways to plug yourself into new networks in parks and recreation.

1.Utilize Social Media Platforms:

Social media has become one of the most powerful tools that a young park and recreation professional can use to plug into networks across the country. Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and X are all readily available to any professional getting started in their career. Join relevant groups such as the Women in Parks and Rec page, the NRPA Young Professional Network page, Youth Sports Connection, Parks and Recreation Social media Professionals page, your local state association, the NRPA social media pages and so many more. 

2.Get Involved in Professional Associations:

One of the most powerful ways to network in the park and recreation field is by joining professional associations such as the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) or state-level organizations. NRPA also has multiple different networks to join including the Young Professionals Network, Commit to Health, CPRP Connection, DEI Network, Education Network and more. These associations offer a wealth of networking opportunities including conferences, workshops and online forums where you can connect with peers, mentors and industry leaders. Actively participating in association events not only allows you to exchange ideas and best practices, but also helps you stay updated on the latest trends and developments in the field.

3. Attend Events and Conferences:

Take advantage of your local and state conferences to mingle with professionals of all kinds such as park professionals, programmers, aquatics technicians, instructors, planners and directors. Actively make conversation with new contacts and exchange business cards to promote a longer lasting connection. Be sure to follow up with your new connections after the event or conference!

4.  Seek Out Mentorship Opportunities:

Mentorship can be incredibly valuable for professional growth and development. Do you have a professional in the park and recreation industry whom you admire and respect? Reach out to them for mentorship opportunities! A mentor can provide guidance, support and invaluable insights based on their own experiences, helping you navigate challenges and make informed career decisions. As you advance in your career make sure to pay it forward to the next generation of young professionals!

5. Volunteer for Professional Projects and Committees:

As you grow in your career, it is important to maintain your connections and to continue to challenge yourself. Volunteering for projects or associations is a great way to expand your network while also gaining excellent professional experience and exposure. By actively participating in collaborative initiatives, you'll have the opportunity to work closely with other professionals in the field, build meaningful relationships and showcase your skills and expertise. Additionally, volunteering demonstrates your commitment to the profession and can enhance your professional reputation.

6. Follow Up, Stay Connected, Find Your People:

Building a network in parks and recreation is not just about making initial connections; it's about nurturing and maintaining those relationships over time. After meeting someone at an event or connecting online, be sure to follow up with a personalized email or message to reiterate your interest in staying connected. Find ways to stay engaged with your network by sharing relevant updates, offering assistance and reaching out periodically to check in and catch up. There are so many possibilities within the world of recreation; continue trying new social groups or conferences until you find the people that will be your support system in the field. Your network is what you make of it, so ensure that you are surrounding yourself with people that will support you in your journey.

Networking is essential in the field of parks and recreation and often can lead to career advancements. By actively participating in associations, utilizing social media groups, attending networking opportunities like events and conferences, seeking mentorships, volunteering in the field and staying connected with your new peers, you can expand your network, open opportunities to new jobs and set yourself up for success in your career path. Don’t be shy- start networking today!

Rachel Smith, MBA, CPRP, is the Operations Manager for James City County Parks and Recreation

This blog post was written in partnership with the NRPA Young Professionals Network (YPN). Learn more about the NRPA YPN on NRPA Connect or on the YPN Facebook group.