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Discover opportunities: Components of campus recreation

This is an excerpt from Dimensions of Leisure for Life by Human Kinetics.

The purpose of campus recreation is to provide a wide variety of recreational experiences and opportunities for students‚ faculty‚ and staff. According to Dr. Ray Wiley, the most popular activities offered by the campus recreation centers he directs are (1) intramurals; (2) fitness programs (weight room, fitness classes); (3) club sports; (4) outdoor trips, often referred to as outdoor pursuits; and (5) aquatics, similar to results at other universities. With all of these activities, one might think that all college students would use their campus recreation centers several times per week. However, research shows that not all students are aware of activity choices, and students participate at differing rates. One study found that males tend participate in campus recreation activities more than do females (Zizzi et al., 2004). Another study revealed that freshmen were less aware of recreational offerings on campus and that men and women had different understandings of their campus choices (Reed, 2007). These results suggest that students participate more in campus recreation activities as they learn about their options.

Campus recreation's primary goal is to serve students; thus, a great deal of the activities and programming revolves around student interests. Students, faculty, and staff participate in campus recreation activates to have fun, maintain healthy lifestyles, and socialize. Leisure activities assist with life stress, enhancing both mental and physical health (Iwasaki & Mannell, 2000). Now a major marketing and recruiting tool for many universities, campus recreation has become a vital component to universities and their students, faculty, and staff. In fact, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) provides several awards to campus recreation programs and professionals for outstanding programs and innovations. Among the most prestigious are the Creative Excellence Award for innovation and creativity in marketing programs and the Outstanding Sports Facilities Award.

The benefits associated with participation in campus recreation activities are endless and range from stress management to social engagement. Areas that many campus recreation centers address are recreational sport, fitness and aquatics, outdoor opportunities, and student program opportunities.

Recreational Sport

The term recreational sport was coined because of the popularity of informal sports programs: It is an umbrella term that refers to intramurals, extramurals, club sports, informal sports, and instructional sports (Mull et al., 2005). Numerous benefits are associated with recreational sports involvement, including decreased stress, improved social integration, enhancement of self-esteem, improved grades, and student development (Belch et al., 2001; Bryant et al., 1994; Haines, 2001; Kanters, 2000; Nesbitt, 1998). The most popular of all recreation sports activities are intramurals (Artinger et al., 2006). Intramurals are structured sports programs within the campus. They offer a wide range of sport opportunities with various levels of competition (beginner, intermediate, advanced). Typical examples of intramurals include softball, basketball, rugby, disc golf, hockey, badminton, volleyball, Wiffle ball, and flag football.


Although sports are a large part of campus recreation, there are numerous recreational opportunities in addition to recreational sports. Most universities offer fitness programs, often in state-of-the-art fitness centers. Universities began incorporating fitness programs around the 1970s, although at the time such programs were considered a passing fad. Fitness programs are one of the top recreational activities on college campuses today, and it is predicted that fitness programming will remain essential as our country continues to struggle with obesity. Programs of interest tend to be group fitness classes such as tai chi, swim classes, water aerobics, Spinning classes, yoga, kick boxing, Pilates, and zumba (a type of dance fitness). Research has revealed a significant decrease in depression and anxiety in those who exercise regularly (Goodwin, 2003). Fitness activities also offer a stress-free way to meet people who share the common interest of fitness. The benefits from fitness opportunities, such as regular exercise and stress management, are key components to a healthy life.

Outdoor Trips

Outdoor trips are another unique opportunity offered by campus recreation programs. The trips range from short day hikes to longer international trips. Students can also learn skills such as canoeing, rock climbing, and scuba, and campus recreation often incorporates these skills into outdoor trips. One such example might be a spring break trip to Hawaii for scuba diving. Equipment for personal or major-related camping or kayaking trips is often available for rent through the campus recreation center. You are unlikely to ever find equipment rental as inexpensive as that offered by the campus recreation center: Rental can be as little as $5 a day! Whether students are skilled outdoor enthusiasts or simply would like to learn to kayak, the campus recreation center offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Student Programs

Recreational opportunities also exist outside of campus recreation facilities. Some are called student programs or student activities, and some are sponsored by the office of student affairs. Regardless of the name, universities are filled with various microcosms outside of campus recreation. Perhaps somewhat unique from campus recreation, most outside activities are created, programmed, and delivered by students. Examples include inexpensive movies, concerts, comedians, lectures, variety shows, and fine arts. Student fees usually cover the majority of the expenses for these events, and therefore they are provided for students either free of charge or a minimal cost. A variety of leisure pursuits have been classified as casual leisure, intrinsically rewarding activities requiring little skill or training to enjoy (Stebbins, 1997). Some believe that casual leisure activities are just as important as serious leisure because people highly value casual leisure opportunities. Everyone participates in casual leisure, and most appreciate the opportunity to relax and emotionally recharge (Stebbins, 1997). Examples of casual leisure within campus recreation include going to movies or hanging out with friends. Campus recreation activities can also require specialized skills and time commitment, considered as serious leisure. Student programs for serious leisure activities include concert or theater productions or active participation in committee work. More than just an opportunity to participate in inexpensive, fun social activities, student programs offer great leadership and experiential opportunities.

Clubs and Student Organizations

Your campus offers a host of other student program opportunities such as student organizations and clubs, Greek life, religious organizations, and cultural opportunities. Additionally, student unions and other venues on campus are filled with social learning environments such as cyber cafes, study spaces, and open green spaces. One can never overlook the importance of informal collegiate experiences that occur as people gather to study or simply to hang out.

Clubs and student organizations are a major part of campus recreation and can range from the Rock Paper Scissors Club, like the one at The University of Florida, to the Young Republicans club, such as that at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The Rock Paper Scissors Club has grown nationally and even has a college tournament, which is broadcast on ESPN. Of course, there are the typical clubs; for example, each major on campus usually has a club (math club, theater club, Spanish club). Notably, the recreation major's club should be having the most fun! Special interest clubs and organizations are plentiful on campus. Every collegiate campus has student government organizations and most have Greek organizations. Other clubs or organizations may range from the 24-hour movie club to a gardening club. If you are not in at least two clubs, it may be fair to say you are missing out. There are collegiate clubs for just about every leisure interest one could imagine. And if one does not exist on your campus, you could start one tomorrow. On second thought, why wait until tomorrow? You could start a Mustache Club just like the one at Carlton College in Minnesota. (This Carlton College club does include women, as long as they agree to shave everything except their upper lip!) Club and student organizations are derived from common leisure interests and frequently include philanthropic pursuits: The Carlton College Mustache Club raises money for a domestic abuse shelter. However, some clubs are purely for casual leisure experiences, like the Harvard Tiddlywinks Society or the University of Minnesota Campus People Watchers. According to the People Watchers' Web site, it is a “noncreepy organization” of people who enjoy the “social, psychological, and analytical aspects of people watching.” Do not wait: Join or start a club or student organization today!

Learn more about Dimensions of Leisure for Life.

More Excerpts From Dimensions of Leisure for Life