Do Users Feel like they Belong at Your Rec Center?


If humans’ primary desire was to find pleasure in life, as Freud suggests, then why doesn’t going to the gym feel like eating an ice cream sandwich? Do the patrons of your rec center run, and lift weights, and join exercise classes — and sweat, and strain, and exert themselves — because it’s easy and enjoyable?

Modern psychology encourages a new viewpoint on human motivation. Not the will to pleasure, or power, or other surface-level, hedonistic drives, but the will to belong and to feel like you’re a part of something — that is the drive with the deepest roots. Princeton social psychologist, Susan Fiske, identifies “belonging” as the primary social motivation.

How Does this Apply to Campus Recreation Centers?

The goal to increase attendance and participation hinges on whether or not users feel like the rec center is a place where they belong.

“When students arrive at our institutions, they are all looking to fit in and ultimately find their place. Looking for that place to belong when entering a higher education institution can be tough to navigate, but it’s our job to give them the opportunity and to help them find that sense of belonging they are in search of,” said Dean Bowen, the fitness center manager and Worcester State University.

A Young Industry

The recreation and fitness industry is young compared to how long humans have inhabited the earth. The YMCA was founded in 1844, and in 1936, Jack LaLanne created what is considered the first health and fitness club. Two hundred years ago, you might be able to find a treadmill at a federal prison – being used as a form of punishment – but you certainly wouldn’t find one at your local university. The need and desire to exercise is increasing every year, but the will and drive to find a community where you belong has always been the same.

People join and quit communities for numerous different reasons. But deep down, they are all searching for the answer to the question: Do I belong here? Let there be no doubt when they walk through the doors of your facility that the answer is, “Yes, you belong here.”


By Garret Garrels, the owner/founder of Pink Gloves Boxing. For more information, visit or email

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