The Marriage Between Athletics and Recreation

Athletics and Recreation

When the athletics and recreation programs team up on a college campus, a powerful foundation for a holistic student experience is created.

That’s the situation at the University of Delaware, where the two departments operate jointly out of the Division of Athletics and Recreation Services. It’s an unconventional model for most campus recreation departments, which often reports to Student Life. But it works on this bustling campus in Newark.

According to Jake Olkkola, UD Senior Associate Athletic Director for Recreation Services, the association with a prestigious campus entity lends strength to a recreation services department. “Sharing facilities with athletics is one of the many things that has allowed us to be as successful as we have been,” he said. “We give our students a unique experience that way. For example, we hold our intramural flag football championships at our 22,000-seat football stadium, in addition to a number of other opportunities.”

“Although we have shared facilities,” said Adam Jines, UD Assistant Athletic Director for Recreation Administration. “It’s important to note that we have facilities that are primarily used for athletics. Just as we have those that are primarily for recreation use. There is constant dialogue between the two areas to identify how each can help the other.”

In addition to indoor and outdoor campus recreation and athletic facilities, the departments share two ice arenas and an outdoor aquatics center. And the collaboration isn’t just confined to the use of facilities.

“There is also quite a bit of crossover in other areas as well,” said Olkkola. “The club sports athletes have access to our varsity strength and conditioning staff as well as the opportunity to work with our athletic trainers. On the flip side, our recreation fitness staff provides mindfulness programs, such as yoga, to many of our varsity sports teams.”

The key to the successful partnership, Olkkola said, is a strong commitment on the part of university leadership. The University of Delaware athletics administration has changed several times during his seven-year tenure, but there has been no drop-off in the level of support for campus recreation.

“Health and wellness, achieving peak performance, and becoming a national model has been a priority, starting at the top with Director of Athletics and Recreation Services, Chrissi Rawak,” added Olkkola. “I think it’s been her buy-in to the collective mission that has been the key to our success. Recreation has been an equal partner and brought to the forefront in terms of being allocated resources. At the University of Delaware, there is a strong understanding of the value of an active and healthy campus, and recognition that recreation touches a segment of the population that athletics is not able to reach.”

Recreation Services broadens the division’s impact from more than 600 student-athletes to a student population of nearly 22,000.

Advice for those at other institutions trying to find their niche in a similar structure?

“Collaborate,” Olkkola advises. “Pull together relationships with campus partners. Make sure that the mission and the benefits of recreation are being articulated to the highest levels at the institution. People need to be willing to advocate for themselves, and they need information that backs up their advocacy. There is data out there that supports the benefits of recreation.”

Jines added, “Keep an open mind. Some of the programs that we offer our students wouldn’t be feasible without the additional resources available to us (from athletics). Identify the good and take advantage of those opportunities.”

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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