I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies national conference in Omaha Nebraska. A little different crowd than what I am used to speaking to but none-the-less they were interested in figuring out how to get youth interested in outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, camping and hunting.
Statistics show that over the last ten years the percentage of teens getting outside and participating in outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking and camping has declined drastically. Based on the nature of these organizations and their resources I made three suggestions to help them connect youth to the outdoors.
One, Connect with Existing Groups. What I meant by this was reach out to existing groups or places where teens are a part of a group (school, church, Boys & Girls Clubs etc) and offer to lead their group in these outdoor activities. Teens are relationship oriented. If they are connected to a group they most likely have a positive relationship with the leader/advisor. If they ask the teen or group to participate in a new activity they have a comfort and trust with that person and are more likely to give it a try because of that relationship. Many after school programs look to partner with other groups to provide positive opportunities for their members.
Two, Start in their Comfort Zone. Don’t ask them to give up their electronics, drive 5 hours to a place they have never heard of before to do an activity they have never done before. Start by bringing the gear or equipment to them. Spend some time at a place they are comfortable walking through how to use the equipment. Then go some place close to participate in the activity where they could ultimately go back on their own if they were interested.
And three, Connect it with an Environmental Cause or Issue. Teens are showing an affinity towards supporting causes. So introduce a cause to them related to the environment and show them how they can affect positive change to that issue in their community. Great example is just a beach clean up. Teens love the beach. Show them that if it is not taken care of, they may lose it for good. You could even have a beach clean up and while they are there have some fishing poles and demonstrate how to fish.
I love the outdoors and desire to bring my girls up engaging in various outdoor activities. My hope is that organizations that have the resources to get youth outdoors, will look to new ways they can connect with youth and get them excited about what the world holds in the outdoors.
(A great resource on this topic is the 2011 Outdoor Participation Report Outdoor Foundation)