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Guest Column - January 2004

A Valuable Aspect of College and University Life

By Kent J. Blumenthal, Ph.D.


College students who participate in recreational sports and fitness activities are more likely to succeed in their academic endeavors and are more satisfied overall with their campus experience, according to a recent Kerr & Downs research report commissioned by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA).

The largest national survey of its kind with 2,673 interviews on 16 campuses, the K & D report confirms what many university administrators and recreation professionals have long believed: Participation in recreational sports programs and college activities is a key determinant in two primary arenas—student contentment and success and administrative recruitment and retention.

As this conclusive evidence arrives as a new book, The Value of Recreational Sports in Higher Education from Human Kinetics (NIRSA's new publishing partner), the numbers of state-of-the-art planned or completed campus recreation centers continue to burgeon steadily.

The students surveyed for the K & D report might say that's no coincidence. Survey respondents agreed, for example, that participating in recreational sports results in the following range of personal benefits, listed in order of priority: improved emotional well-being, reduced stress, increased happiness and greater self-confidence. Regarding the social side of student life, survey respondents agreed that participation contributes to character development, a heightened sense of belonging within the college community and improved interaction with diverse sets of people. On a more academic level, respondents felt that involvement in recreational sports helps them build skills in leadership, time management and team building and, in sum, plays an important role in the realization of a successful learning experience.

That this survey is the largest ever conducted is news, but of further note is the resounding support these responses contribute to the pronouncements of trend spotters and pollsters as far back as the early 1970s. In the spring 1987 issue of NIRSA Journal, Brian Haderlie explores "Influences of Campus Recreation Programs and Facilities on Student Recruitment and Retention," with underpinnings of research conducted for 1973 issues of Educational Record, and College and University, to conclude that the positive influences of recreation programs and centers need to be explored, articulated and promoted for the good of the university community.

The April 2000 results of a "StudentPoll," conducted under the sponsorship of the Art & Science Group, Inc., sought to determine if prospective students do indeed base their school selections on the star quality of a school's intercollegiate sports, as has been commonly believed by many recruitment specialists. The poll found not only that "neither quality nor the NCAA division classification of a school's intercollegiate programs were important to most students," but also that "intramural and recreational sports, in fact, have a much greater influence on college choice than intercollegiate athletics."

With the publication of the complete K & D report at hand, earlier research has gained sound support, as have the dedicated efforts of 4,000 NIRSA members on 846 U.S. campuses, where millions of students annually devote countless hours to participating in recreational sports activities.

NIRSA's President, Sid Gonsoulin, associate VP of Student Affairs and executive director of the Department of Campus Recreation at the University of Southern Mississippi, agrees that the flourishing recreation center industry has kept pace with universities' efforts to boost their student populations, and, he notes, the results of the K & D study demonstrate the solid causal logic behind this trend. While students do gravitate to colleges that provide certain standards in curriculum and prestige, they further desire involvement in intramural programs, as well as wellness, fitness, aquatics programs and sports clubs.

"State-of-the-art recreational sports facilities and their programs attract and retain students and faculty," Gonsoulin says. "It is as simple as that."

In short, the growing numbers of students—and their parents—know what's good for them, and that's a big step in a very healthy direction.

"Sports, fitness and wellness programs have become a way of life for millions of Americans," Gonsoulin says. "This trend will continue because the healthy benefits derived from these activities continue to be realized."

Kent J. Blumenthal, Ph.D., is executive director of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). He can be reached at kentb@nirsa.org. NIRSA is the leading resource for professional and student development, education and research in collegiate recreational sports. Its 2004 Annual Conference and Recreational Sports Exposition will be held April 17 to 21 in Albuquerque, N.M. For more information, visit www.nirsa.org or call 541-766-8211.