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10 Years, 10 of Our Best Sports and Recreation Tips

1. Contact a neutral consultant knowledgeable about playgrounds.
You can obtain consultant names from the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAH-PERD), the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS), or the National Recreation Park Association (NRPA). The consultant should attend the initial or second meeting of the playground planning group. It may be appropriate to pay a fee and/or cover expenses for the consultant. The information the consultant gives should save money over the length of the project.
--"Ministry of the Month: Children," December 2003

2. Get out of the box.
The hottest playground trend by far is the growing use of creative play pieces in lieu of traditional park equipment. Churches do not want their playground to look like the city park down the street. Instead, they are seeking differentiation.

Custom-designed environments built outside publicly demonstrate a ministry's mission and uniqueness. Since the playground is often the first feature seen at the church, a custom-designed feature will welcome the children into a whole new environment away from the outside world.
--"Trends in Outdoor Play Equipment," July 2004

3. Look beyond the dollar sign.
The purchasing of recreation equipment is a more detailed process than just searching for the best available price. The issue of how to use gym equipment includes issues of how often will it be used, therefore bringing a quality component into the purchase and potentially increasing the purchase price. One of the most common mistakes made by churches is to try to use discount-priced, low-quality recreational equipment. This rarely proves to be a wise choice in the long run for heavy use by groups.

The balance of quality and quantity vs. price is an imperative issue to address. Rarely will you regret purchasing high-quality recreational equipment. Yet you must shop prudently to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to your church.
--"Selecting Gym Equipment," February 2005

4. Evaluate all aspects of the equipment.
Choosing a product with a good warranty is important. Compare warranties among companies for their equipment, and look for a manufacturer that will be around long-term to back up their warranty.

Ask for samples and compare the quality of materials from play equipment manufacturers. Not all materials perform the same. Choose a material that looks good, but will also perform with excellence in your climate and for your children.
--"Tips from the Pros," August 2006

5. Keep ministry in your sports ministry.
When the church understands the profound cultural impact that sports and recreation has, the church must commit to the principle of keeping the main things the main things. Too many churches have formed the ubiquitous church softball or basketball team and called that "sports ministry." In reality, it is a gathering of the "frozen chosen" or the "holy huddle."

Others have been more expansive in creating outreach programs, events or leagues and they have started well, but eventually gave way to pragmatism and turned into "activity" rather than maintain a ministry focus that segues from the sports activity to the gospel or to a more vibrant Christian life.
--"Keeping Ministry in Sports Ministry," January 2007

6. Go green.
Caring for children and thoughtful stewardship of the earth go hand in hand. As a result, the commercial playground industry grows greener every year.

Ask the manufacturer for detailed breakdowns of recycled content by weight and compare manufacturers side by side. And, ask whether or not the structures themselves are recyclable; after all, even the toughest play structures will eventually wear out.

Purchasing from companies that maximize the use of recycled and earth-friendly materials can make a big difference today and for the world that our children will eventually inherit.
--"How to Build a Green Playground," August 2008

7. Remember the true value of your church's playground.
Play time outdoors has been replaced with more sedentary activities, such as video games, television, and computer use. Without outdoor playtime, children lose valuable developmental opportunities.

But play has more benefits than just the physical aspect. Play also teaches children cooperation and gives them a sense of belonging and achievement, helping them to develop social skills they will need much later in life.
--"The True Value of Your Church's Playground," November 2009

8. Keep safety in sight.
When considering what type of commercial playground equipment to purchase for your church's playground, many people are hesitant about trying new or different styles of products. Equipment that appears different may be seen as unproven or possibly unsafe. However, everything is not always as it may appear!

There are manufacturers that make new and unique forms of commercial playground equipment that appeal to young and old alike, allowing them to run, climb and move—keeping active while having fun! Playground equipment is designed for compliance with standards from all over the world, so not only is it fun, but it is also very safe.
--"Playgrounds: Safe Is the New Fun," June 2010

9. Involve the community.
One of the best ways to stretch your playground budget is by having a community-build to install your playground equipment.

Considering installations run between 25-40% of your total budget, it can be a disappointment to know that $6,000 of a $10,000 budget actually goes toward the equipment, while the rest is applied to installation/shipping/mulch/borders/taxes, etc.

Those who install their own playground gain a sense of ownership and responsibility toward the finished project, and the pride felt by the volunteers in their accomplishment translates into pride toward the church or the community. You'd be surprised the number of people willing and able to put their tools and efforts to work.
--"How to Stretch Your Playground Equipment Budget," June 2011

10. Use technology.
When it comes to the tedious task of registering sports league participants, making life easier is exactly online sports management systems can do.

There are many service companies that specialize in online registrations for youth sports, background checks of volunteers and coaches, and even concussion management tools, all of which are critical assignments and duties in the youth sports league process for everything from little league to church youth organizations.
--"Benefits of an Online Sports Management System," November 2012

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