For recreation or play, never forget about ‘The Why’

Patti Freeman has a Ph.D. in recreation.

How about that? I never knew there was such a thing. A Ph.D. in recreation. Who would have thought? But there is. And she has it.

I happened to catch a speech she gave recently about her chosen field, and it has caused me to re-think this business we are in. We say, constantly, that we are in the “recreation business.” But I don’t think we have a clue what we really do.

We sell bikes and nuts and bolts and tie downs and trailers. We fix them; we haul them; we run them from the back to the front every morning and back to the back every night. We cuss them when they won’t start, and we sing their praises when we make a jump, or clip off 500 miles in a one-day run across a whole state.

We do all this. Day after day. We deal with the machines, the parts and the repairs. And we never think about — The Why — people come through our doors.

Come on. These things are not necessities. You’re sitting out in the open, exposed to everything, your clothes flapping in the wind. You’ve got a hot bucket on your head, and sweat running down your neck. Your kickstand sinks in the hot asphalt, car drivers never see you, and you are always on super defense. We won’t even talk about the cold and the rain. You know all these things, and yet you still get on one, and in five minutes you’ve got a big smile on your face.

Dr. Freeman, currently professor and department chair of the BYU Recreation Management Department, has some good ideas about this recreation thing. She actually puts words to what we do, and begins by talking about play.

“Play,” she says, “is essential.” It allows us to experience the world at our own rate. Play teaches persistence, which is learned by doing hard things. Ever watch kids on bikes building a jump on the sidewalk? They had to find the boards and the bricks. They worked on the incline and the strength of the ramp. When things didn’t hold together, they had to come up with a new design and try again. They then experimented with the speed and the approach angle. And after all of this, they competed to see who could get the most air. Think this would have application in the real world? Of course.

Those kids didn’t call this “work.” They called it play. And we call it recreation.

Patti quotes author David E. Gray who defines recreation as:
“Recreation is an emotional condition within an individual human being that flows from a feeling of well-being and self-satisfaction. It is characterized by feelings of mastery, achievement, exhilaration, acceptance, success, personal worth and pleasure. It reinforces a positive self-image. Recreation is a response to aesthetic experience, achievement of personal goals, or positive feedback from others. It is independent of activity, leisure, or social acceptance.”

And there you have, exactly what we make possible.

“Recreation business” is not an oxymoron. We provide tools and equipment, but with those tools and equipment, our customers create time, space and memories with people they love.


I was driving past the sand dunes at the southern tip of the Oquirrh Mountains just west of Salt Lake. Dad was at the base, standing, watching, coaching. Son was on the bike. Looked like a little CRF80, and the kid was about 10. Halfway up, and he tips to the side. He walks it down, and Dad helps him start up again. A little over halfway, he loses his balance and kills the engine. Back again. Dad talks to him, and he tries once more. This time, to the top.

Play. Fear. Persistence. Success. Confidence. It all goes together to build character.

Recognizing its power for good, Patti lays out four ways to create and protect recreation. First, she says, we have to make recreation a priority. We have to believe that it really is an important element of a good life, and make it happen. Free time could be spent in leisure. It could be spent in a “vacation” which implies loafing, hanging out, or passing time. Or, it could be spent in a time of re-creation, a time of renewal, a time of self-discovery. The highest purpose of play, she says, is re-creation. And guess who sells the play toys.

Patti’s second element of recreation is to create time and space for it. Media and technology are not recreation; they are distractions. “Often,” she says, “they fill time that could be used for more meaningful interactions.”

Recreation, she notes as her third point, is as much a state of mind, as it is an activity. And fourth, it can be more easily found in a simplified life, than in one that is filled with diversions.

In the past 40 years I have sold tens of thousands of bikes, tie downs and T-shirts. I have employed hundreds of people, and traveled the world with people who had done the same. But when remembering the best of it all, my mind always goes back to that one moment that would happen each fall:

My riding buddy Ron and I sit on two Gold Wings, packed and ready to roll, but stopped for a moment at the exit from my parking lot. We pause, take out a coin and flip it. We look, grin and head north. Simply north. No destination. No timetable. And no agenda.

And for three days we ride fine machines through new places, have new adventures, meet fascinating people and see the world not from inside the wagon, but from the back of the horse. For three days, pure re-creation.

Freeman’s remarks are used here with her permission.

Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 40 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at ADP Lightspeed. Contact him at


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