Recreation Director: Certification, Training and Career Information

Sep 17, 2019

Recreation directors must have at least a bachelor's degree in order to receive professional certification in their field, and studies typically feature coursework in topics like canoeing, wilderness first aid, rock climbing, camping, and resource management. Some recreation directors work with people with disabilities, while others may work in prisons, long-term care facilities, or nursing homes.

Essential Information

Recreation directors oversee programs in public and private parks, sports facilities and community centers. Some of these professionals may go on to become recreational therapists, incorporating recreational activities into therapeutic work with the elderly, obese, disabled, and other groups. Voluntary certification evidences the completion of relevant education and work experience, in addition to a commitment to professional development. A bachelor's degree is required for certification.

Required Education A bachelor's degree in recreation, parks and leisure studies
Recommended Credentials Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) credential
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% (for recreation workers)*
Median Salary (2016) $59,938 (for parks and recreation directors)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Recreation Director Certification

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is a nonprofit interest group that promotes public parks and the organized activities that take place within them ( The NRPA awards a nationally-recognized designation of Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) to qualified individuals.

To be eligible for the CPRP certification, an applicant must have a bachelor's degree in recreation, parks and leisure studies from an NRPA-approved program or a combination of training and experience in a recreation field. Three years of field experience is required for those with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, and five years of experience is required for high school graduates. After submitting proof of education and work experience and paying the standard application fee, an applicant must pass the CPRP exam. Continuing education is required in order to maintain certification.

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) offers voluntary certification for professionals who provide programming for individuals with disabilities ( Recreational directors who work in nursing facilities, adult long-term care centers or prisons may consider sitting for the NCTRC certification exam. First-aid, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or lifeguard certifications may be required, depending on particular job duties.


Relevant training depends on the specific duties and procedures of the position, which vary depending on the location and type of facility. For example, an aspiring recreation director for a senior center may concentrate in recreation therapy, complete an internship at a nursing home and obtain NCTRC certification. Prospective youth program directors may take courses in child development and art education before pursuing a summer internship as a camp counselor or after-school program assistant. A future state park manager might major in outdoor recreation and consider a practicum in wilderness education.

Recreation, parks and leisure studies departments offer a range of concentrations at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Courses cover specific activities, such as rock climbing, camping and canoeing. Other topics may include wilderness first aid, ecotourism and recreation resource management.

Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the demand for recreation workers would increase by 8% between 2018 and 2028, and would expand by 7% for recreational therapists during that same decade ( Parks and recreation directors earned a median annual salary of $59,938 as of September 2019, according to Recreational therapists earned a median salary of $47,860 in May 2018, according to the BLS.

Professional certifications and training for recreation directors vary depending on factors such as job and work environment. To become certified, a bachelor's degree or significant work experience is required, while voluntary certification is available for those who work with people with disabilities. Recreation workers, including directors, can expect to see a 8% increase in job opportunities from 2018-2028.

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