Reaganism has already left its mark on the people who plan the way people play.

"There is no way that government agencies can pay enough people to serve the public's recreation needs," said Casey Conrad, executive director of the Presdent's Council on Physical Fitness. "The whole future of recreation has to lie with volunteers. One of the most important people in the recreation department of the future is going to be the staffer in charge of signing up volunteer leaders."

Conrad concedes that his is not a popular view among recreation professionals, who are concerned with amateur infringement on their trade. But the facts, he maintains, spell out no alternative.

"It's a whole new world. People no longer turn to their work for satisfaction. In these times of shorter work weeks, shorter working like, often a person's principal satisfaction comes from recreation or some off-the-job activity.

"In the old days we used to have everyone in the recreation field on a paid basis. But as these programs expand to fill expanded needs, you can't possibly pay everyone you need."

The expansion of interest in recreation needs needs no documenting. The surge in participation in so-called "life sports" -- tennis, hiking, swimming, racket sports, jogging, bicycling -- was verified locally by a Washington Post survey in 1980.

The question Conrad and others in the area are addressing now is how to respond to the changing times.

"These lifetime sports are stressed now in the schools," Conrad said. "One of the things that recreation departments will get from this is a demand for these kinds of facilities and programs" as today's youngsters become tomorrow's adults.

"We have 30 million youngsters engaged in out-of-school sports, and most of them are under volunteer leaders," Conrad said. "Only through this kind of system of volunteer leadership will we be able to provide for the needs of all-age people."

Area professionals back up Conrad's assessment of expanding needs.

"There is certainly a trend for people playing recreactional sports longer," said Barry Mangum, deputy director of the Prince George's County Recreation Department. "And girls and women are much more active today, and that trend will continue."

The demographics of population change are forcing new directions in recreation. The only age group in the United States that is growing today, in actual numbers, is the elderly. That trend will intensify, altering the nature of public recreation as it does.

"There is certainly a trend for people to play recreational sports longer -- well into their 40s and 50s," said Mangum. "We've noticed in the events that we run, particularly running events, that older people are getting involved.

"I think adults are sold on the concept of fitness and physical exercise and the medical people are backing it up.So if anything, these activities will become even more appealing over the next five years."

Mangum's view, developed over 25 years as a recreation professional, is that the public over the next half-decade will demand:

More service for the elderly.

More urban and suburban activities and services as fuel costs and economic hard times curtail family travel.

More programs for women and more coeducational programs.

More facilities and programs for the handicapped.

The District of Columbia is encountering the same kinds of phenomena with a sociological twist.

Surveys are showing that something like two-thirds of the households in the city have two people or one, said Chip Fawcett, acting director of design and development for the D.C. Recreation Department. "So where traditionally we thought of recreation in terms of kids, today it's more and more adults, especially as you get closer to downtown."

Fawcett said the department continues to see its mission "as principally with the kids, who need supervision, but the pressure is increasing for more adult facilities." Particularly, he said, the District is working on getting more tennis courts, swimming pools, and trails for jogging, exercise and bicycling, and trying to improve soccer fields.

One stupendous advance benefiting the District has been the improvement in the Potomac River over the last decade as sewage treatment plants went on line in cities and towns all along the watershed. The cleanup coincided with increased demand for recreation. Among the results were a fishing derby last month, crowds of canoeists and kayakers in the whitewater stretch near Old Anglers Inn and rafting, rowing and other water sports.

Fawcett said expanded use of the Potomac, with the possibility of a swimming beach in the future, is high on the minds of the city's recreation planners.

Likewise in the suburbs, people are using local natural resources more than ever before.

"In recent years the use of our parks has definitely increased," said Thomas Countee of the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. "Principally that is because of the energy crisis, secondly its because of the higher costs of vacations, and, third, we think, because of more awareness of our local facilities."

He said "usage statistics lead us to expect that trend to continue."

The problem is going to come when increased demand for facilities runs headlong into shrinking budgets for recreation. "In terms of our fiscal climate, we simply are in a more stringent fiscal situation as taxpayers grow more concerned with local government expenses," Countee said

Where to turn? Conrad, from the President's Council, wants recreation directors to "look across the street at what's going on in the YMCA -- volunteer leaders. It's a matter of identifying prospective volunteer leaders, training them and giving them status.

"That's what puts meaning in a life," he said. "Give them an altruistic job and some status and watch what happens . . ."