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ONLINE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 46 NOVEMBER 2002 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

practice

Therapeutic recreation

David Roush writes from the perspective of Juvenile Detention but he is of interest to all who run or work in programs for youth

Any program designed to serve youth must provide a means for the constructive channeling of energy (physical activity). There is a special need for involvement in noncompetitive sports and activities that allow for differences in strength, dexterity, and size. Recreation has the greatest potential for raising a youth’s self-esteem and for establishing great relationships between staff and youth. Conversely, it also has the most destructive power in these areas.

Noncompetitive activities
Plato wrote that we should strive for a combination of a perfect mind and a perfect body. Although none of us can be perfect, there is a link here with therapeutic recreation. The word therapeutic means that the goals of physical exercise and having fun are secondary to the therapeutic goals of teaching new skills, raising self-esteem, and establishing the relationship. Therapeutic recreation is recreation that has a teaching or helping component.

Even though most juvenile delinquents are risktakers, they generally are not involved in sports or athletic programs for a variety of reasons. Because most detention facilities have a gym and because most juvenile offenders have had experience playing basketball, basketball frequently becomes the predominant form of recreation. In addition to excluding female detainees, basketball becomes a convenient recreation strategy that allows staff to provide recreation with minimum involvement and planning. Grimm (1991) maintained that therapeutic recreation began when detention facilities moved beyond basketball.

If the primary goal is maximum involvement by youth in a therapeutic recreation program, youth must be encouraged to participate. One very effective way to increase participation is through the use of noncompetitive games. These activities are highly inclusive and nonthreatening. They provide staff with numerous opportunities for encouragement and praise. As youth become more trusting and confident, they are more likely to cooperate with others, trust the guidance and direction of staff, and engage in more vigorous physical activities. If approached sequentially, noncompetitive games can be a way to lead youth into more demanding recreational activities, such as physical fitness and aerobics.

Noncompetitive games have been used successfully with detention residents (Roush, Christner, Lee, and Stelma, 1993; and Roush and Roush, 1993). Many resources available to juvenile detention staff detail noncompetitive games in juvenile detention (Grimm, 1991; Roush and Wyss, 1994; and Thorne, 1992). There are also additional resources for noncompetitive games (Fluegelman, 1976; Goodman and Weinstein, 1980; and Lions-Quest, 1992).

No matter what level of success you hope to achieve, your chances of success are improved with a positive mental image of yourself. It is important to believe in yourself if you are to succeed. In many cases, your health and physical condition are part of your overall wellness and success.

Physical fitness
It is almost impossible to enjoy robust health and achieve optimum physical fitness without a planned program of regular exercise. Therefore, proper exercise is a planned supervised program designed to maintain body measurements at normal symmetrical proportions and to tone muscles for normal and optimum efficiency.

Proper daily exercise is important because, in addition to contributing to better health and a longer lifespan, it can greatly improve the quality of life. Exercise has been proven to alleviate depression and decrease anxiety.

You can initiate and develop a therapeutic recreation program to fit your own program’s needs and philosophies. A program that works well combines old-fashioned physical fitness (calisthenics, running, and weight training) and a variety of sports.
A physical fitness program should be approached sequentially. Youth should have an opportunity to work up to vigorous and strenuous exercise routines. At every opportunity along the way, staff should encourage and reinforce participation, effort, accomplishment, and the healthy feelings associated with physical exercise.

Physical fitness programs should be under the supervision of a staff member trained in exercise physiology. The sequential nature of a program should include stretching exercises, calisthenics, aerobics, running or jogging programs, and weight training (stationary machines as opposed to free weights).

Vigorous exercise is an important component of a good recreation program. Juvenile detention professionals understood this concept long before the popularity of boot camps. The difference between a vigorous therapeutic recreation component and boot camps is not the level of hard work or the expenditure of energy on exercising and physical fitness. The difference is that therapeutic recreation programs are not intended to demean, humiliate, or degrade youth by having a staff member yell at and harass youth in the stereotypical drill-sergeant fashion. Youth are sent to detention as punishment, not for punishment (Logan, 1993). It is not within the legitimate role of detention to attempt to add to the pain and suffering inherent in being forcibly separated from home and society.

A physical fitness program should include a planned weight training program for everyone. Staff should make it enjoyable and never talk negatively about anyone’s physical appearance. An overweight youth should be given exercises with high repetitions to help burn fat.

Also, staff should advise youth about the advantages of maintaining a healthy diet versus eating junk food. A walking and jogging program is recommended. However, youth should never be forced to participate in this exercise program. They should be greatly encouraged. The effort is most important. The pat on the back is always needed, especially for youth with poor self-images. Most youth respond in a positive way, and their behaviors greatly improve in other parts of the program.
Sports, sports, and more sports are offered all youth in a therapeutic recreation program—which means variety. By offering as many sports as possible, there is a greater chance that each resident will find one suited for his or her abilities. Sports as structured team games provide numerous learning experiences for youth. Before playing the sports, staff should teach the rules and work on the basic fundamentals for that particular sport. The list of sports that residents can participate in includes basketball, football, floor hockey, softball, volleyball, wrestling, weightlifting, running, aerobics. golf, handball, and soccer. Protective gear, flexible equipment, and special foam balls make many of these sports (a) safe for a wide range of youth, (b) usable in co-educational situations, and (c) playable indoors in a gym, recreation room, or large dayroom.

Leisure time
Leisure time is important in all programs. However, how and when you use leisure time is equally important. Many facilities run a very structured program and allow very little free time for residents. Youth in detention are very high-risk youth, and they need structure. Most detention programs subject youth to numerous hours of television or cards because of insufficient staff, overcrowding, or a belief that programs are rewards for delinquent behavior. This approach does not qualify as constructive leisure time activity.

The American Correctional Association (ACA) (1991) addresses recreation and activities in Standard 3-JDF-5E-04, which reads as follows:

Written policy, procedure, and practice provide a recreation and leisure time plan that includes at a minimum at least one hour per day of large muscle activity and one hour of structured leisure time activities.

Comment: Large muscle development and opportunities for play and creative activities are essential for the growing youth. There should be opportunities for exercise and constructive leisure time activity for at least two (2) hours on school days and three (3) hours on non-school days, not including time spent watching television.

The ACA Standard raises two important points for understanding leisure time activities. First, leisure time activities are to be planned. Planning requires that leisure time activities be scheduled for a specific time within the daily schedule and that some thought and organization be included in the choice of leisure time activities.

Second, there is a difference between structured or constructive leisure time activities and free time activities. Structured or constructive activities do not include watching television, listening to music, or playing cards. There still is debate about whether activities should be constructive (designed to contribute to the improvement of youth) or structured (planned and supervised to be consistent with the orderly, safe, and secure goals of detention). Furthermore, instructive and structured are not mutually exclusive. At minimum, however, at least 1 hour of structured activities per day should be provided to detained youth. These activities should be of a social nature and should be well organized and well planned. Arrangements should be made to ensure that staff understand their responsibilities, that space and equipment are available for the activity, and that adequate supervision exists.

Some facilities have leisure time between 3 and 4 p.m. every afternoon. During that hour, youth watch television and play radios. Table games are also offered; Monopoly, Battleship, and chess are favorite table games for youth. Card games are popular, but poker and blackjack are not permitted. In the evening, there is more leisure time.

If your program is fortunate enough to have a game room, you might want to take advantage of it. Not all youth like physical sports, and the game room gives them an opportunity to enjoy other types of recreation, such as ping pong, foosball, and pool. There are always youth interested in participating in the game room. A partial list of activities for leisure time includes listening to music, watching television or video movies, playing table games, going to the game room, making phone calls, playing video games, and reading books.

Staff play important roles with detained youth. Interaction should be constant. It may take place in the gymnasium or game room, or it may involve a simple talk about the youth’s day. Regardless, activities promote strong resident and staff interaction.

This feature: Roush, D. (1996) Desktop Guide to Good Juvenile Detention Practice. Michigan: National Juvenile Detention Association, pp.114-116