Apr 9, 2018A Better Approach?
By overseeing recreational sports alongside athletic training and strength and conditioning, this author has been able to develop unique partnerships and programs across the University of Delaware campus.
Inspiring greatness together.
Not only is this the mission statement of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Services at the University of Delaware, but it is also what fuels the collaborative relationship between our varsity athletics and campus recreation departments.
Unlike many schools that categorize recreation within the Division of Student Life, we place it under the same umbrella as athletics. This dynamic elicits myriad benefits-from sharing facilities to increasing efficiencies to promoting communication among area experts-but the main draw harkens back to our mission statement: We want to bring people together. Because recreation services operates as the hub of campus wellness, our model truly offers something for everyone and creates a broader presence for athletics on campus. Instead of solely impacting our 600 varsity student-athletes, we can reach the entire campus community-students, staff, and faculty.
In recent years, our partnership between athletics and recreation has grown even stronger and more influential as we’ve continued to refine our approach. This has required a defined organizational structure, a willingness to share resources, and open communication.
The success of our partnership starts with how we structure our senior leadership positions. We have created strategic overlap in these roles to allow for efficiency of operations and alignment of health and wellness goals between the two groups.
At the forefront of the model is Delaware’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Services, Chrissi Rawak. She values the overall experience of our student body, faculty, and staff, and she understands the integral role recreation plays within the campus community. Her work with the department to establish our mission has been unwavering, and recreation has been an equal partner in all of her efforts.
My job consists of senior-level oversight of recreation services, athletic training, strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, sports psychology, and equipment operations. The position entails leading each area; providing my direct reports and their departments with personal and professional growth opportunities; listening to area heads to offer feedback and support their needs; ensuring policy and procedures are developed, reviewed, and communicated appropriately; budget oversight; and hiring of personnel.
For recreation services specifically, I am responsible for the overall operations of programming, personnel, and facility operations. I spend two days per week within recreation services meeting with personnel, walking the facilities, interacting with student participants, and participating in staff meetings.
In addition, I meet multiple times per week with Karen Freed, our Associate Athletic Director/Director of Recreation Services. She is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the department and personnel, with a direct reporting line to me. At times, our meetings will include other members of the recreation staff in order to brainstorm, educate each other, and make decisions as a group.
Another departmental senior leadership position that has overlap with recreation is our Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Facilities and Operations. This role directly supervises facilities and operations within athletics, as well as the ice rinks and outdoor aquatics center. Although direct oversight of recreation services does not fit within this portfolio per se, there is a dotted line on our organizational chart between this position and the facility personnel within our recreation center to create operational efficiencies between both groups.
Beyond our leadership team, the rest of our model entails a recreation staff of 16 that works closely with the athletics department. They are involved in all department-wide meetings, personnel hiring processes, facility and event operations, and campus collaborative working groups.
This organizational structure allows for alignment and consistency across all operations during events. When an athletic contest occurs, recreation is part of it. For instance, during home football games, recreation facility personnel assist our athletics facility staff.
Likewise, athletics personnel help with event logistics during large events at the recreation center, such as welcome-back gatherings, blood drives, and other campus programming. Our Homecoming 5K race is a great example of this collaboration. Delaware’s Employee Health and Well-being Department partners with recreation services to plan, market, and staff the event, as well as collaborate on pre- and post-race activities. The race takes place within our athletic facility footprint, ending with participants running through the tunnel onto our football field at Delaware Stadium. From race planning to event setup to breakdown and debriefing afterward, both recreation and athletics engage in the effort to ensure the 5K is a success.
To keep our partnership running smoothly, we must share resources and ensure collaboration between our staffs. This applies to facilities and services offered to both our athletics and recreation populations.
When it comes to facility use, we have developed a phenomenal working relationship between our departments. When one group requests a space, the two parties work together and consult a master calendar to see if it’s available. If both groups request the same space for the same time, our staffs take into account event size, type of event, and number of attendees and then look for ways to best accommodate both sides.
In day-to-day practice, this means that many of our intramural and club sports contests take place on our varsity fields and courts. For example, our intramural flag football championship games are hosted at Delaware Stadium. We feel it is important to offer these sites to our recreation students because we want to provide unique experiences for them.
On the flip side, varsity sport competitions and practices occasionally occur within our recreation center. In particular, varsity volleyball matches take place in one of our recreation gymnasiums a few times a year. Because the rec space serves as one of the hubs on campus, this allows us to bring our contests to a centralized location, ensuring integration among the student body, varsity athletes, staff, and faculty.
Our sharing of facilities also extends to strength and conditioning. During slow periods in the recreation calendar and over the summer, our varsity strength and conditioning coaches coordinate with our recreation facility personnel to schedule time for varsity teams to train in the campus fitness center. This building has multiple levels and several equipment areas that enable a team to work out without compromising the experience, space, and needs of our recreation members.
Similarly, our club sport athletes have access to our varsity weightrooms. However, they must do so under the supervision of their dedicated strength and conditioning coaches.
The shared use of these weightrooms provides increased visibility for both varsity and recreation athletes and allows them to use different workout tools. In addition, it brings together members of the student body that might not normally interact.
Beyond facilities, athletics and recreation share other services, too. Our recreation department provides wellness and performance opportunities-such as yoga, spin classes, and kickboxing-to our varsity sport teams to supplement their workouts. When scheduling these offerings, the recreation fitness staff coordinates with either the varsity sport coaches or strength and conditioning coaches. The athletes benefit by participating in workouts related to recovery, regeneration, energy system activation, and team bonding. Meanwhile, the fitness instructors develop relationships with varsity coaches and student-athletes.
There’s also collaboration when it comes to providing athletic training services to both varsity and club athletes. There’s an athletic training room in our recreation center, and it is staffed by a certified graduate assistant athletic trainer from the athletics department. The facility is open daily for the needs of club sport athletes. In addition, we provide an athletic trainer at the high-risk club sport games and tournaments. Having this sports medicine facility in our recreation center provides a high level of service for our club sport athletes and creates a peer-to-peer interactive environment.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
The numerous benefits we’ve seen from combining athletics and recreation services would not have been possible without a few factors. First and foremost, we’ve had tremendous support from our administration.
Another key has been open communication. Proactive communication in event planning, event logistics, and setting department goals is necessary. We encourage the free sharing of ideas and information, and no thought is considered too out of the box.
To ensure athletics and recreation stay on the same page, we hold department-wide meetings once per month that include both groups of personnel. In addition, I try to bring all parties together to meet in person whenever there is a topic that has a cross-department impact. There is no harm in getting everyone’s views and expertise when making decisions. Face-to-face communication among staff helps develop stronger working relationships.
Finally, this collaboration would not have been successful without aligning our vision across all personnel. Besides involving everyone in department meetings, we include athletics and recreation on the same department announcement e-mails, recognize personnel for the work they do, incorporate administrative policies and procedures across both departments, and ensure everyone gets consistent messages from leadership.
For other schools looking to embark on a similar partnership between athletics and campus recreation, I have three pieces of advice. First, take your customers’ feedback into consideration. Surveying and speaking with students, faculty, and staff may provide insight that can affect positive change.
For example, each year, we survey and speak to our customers about their overall experience, look at what programming went well, and evaluate areas for improvement. Feedback is very important because we want to know how both recreation and athletics can engage more in the campus community.
Next, build relationships with campus partners. We are fortunate to have support from numerous departments at Delaware, such as our Division of Student Life. They partner with us on event advertising, space usage, programming, and co-sponsored activities, and we support their initiatives whenever possible.
For instance, within our recreation building, we dedicate space for Student Life’s “Healthy Hens” program, which falls under Student Health Services. This initiative conducts health screens for interested individuals. We give the program an office in the recreation center to conduct their screenings, and, in turn, Healthy Hens refers participants to recreation to help them meet their health goals.
Lastly, make the effort to learn how you can influence the greater good of your campus community to create exceptional experiences for students, athletes, staff, and faculty. The model you come up with might not be the same as ours, but by considering an integrated approach, you are sure to find what works best for you.
This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.