Four Technologies to Bolster Campus Recreation Participation


Most collegiate recreation departments are committed to providing opportunities for every student on campus. However, achieving full participation is a monumental goal. Most recreation centers often attract about 75 percent of a campus population on average and then just about 80 percent of that group use the facilities weekly.

These are strong numbers, but that doesn’t stop recreation departments from trying to find ways to engage new groups of students. Every day, campus recreation teams across the country introduce new programming that can attract a diverse campus community and include spaces for learning, student life, wellness and other synergistic programs.

Now, given the rapid evolution of technology affecting every corner of society, it’s time for campus recreation departments to embrace a new suite of digital tools to help bring new students through their centers’ doors. Technologies like virtual reality, video games and fitness trackers create exciting opportunities to encourage non-typical student users to participate in programming.

Here’s a look at four key digital tools campus recreation leaders should consider at their school.

Empower Exergaming

While some students may use video games to compete, others are beginning to use them for physical fitness. Exergaming, an emerging trend growing in popularity, involves technology-driven physical activities like video games that require players to dance or run to compete. These video games move beyond traditional controllers with buttons to wearable controllers, floor mats with sensors and a plethora of other options. Popular titles like IDance, Holoftit Rowing, Zombie Run and others allow users to combine passions for video game entertainment and physical exercise.

Introducing technology that supports exergaming can inherently appeal to new students on campus. Beyond being unique and fun, exergames allow students to socialize or compete as they play alongside each other and talk about the activity. Moreover, exergames empower choice – letting users play at their own difficulty level, pace and mode of play. These are all positives for recreation departments seeking to engage new student audiences.

Fortunately, the technology that supports eSports can most likely also support exergames which can limit initial investment for colleges and universities as they build up interest. Exergaming is another example of how campus recreation can embrace technology not as a rival to fitness, but as another tool to connect with students.

Wearable Tech

Intentional fitness is a growing trend in the US. With FitBits and scores of apps allowing students to track their workouts, heart rate and more, fitness enthusiasts of all types are gaining new appreciation for technology and data.

Colleges and universities can integrate these technologies into fitness opportunities for students. The University of Vermont is currently updating its cycling studio to be half cycling and half strength training environment that uses FitMetrix, allowing students to compete with each other and track performance. “This will be an exciting shift for our student users,” said Justina Reichelt, the assistant director of fitness programs at the University of Vermont. “The technology allows them to track performance via a leaderboard and emails about distance biked, training goals achieved, heart rate and more. Empowering this tracking fuels retention and personalizes the experience.”

Other institutions eager to increase student retention on campus can explore using wearable tools that keep students excited and engaged in their ongoing performance.

Offer Virtual Fitness on Demand

Even students passionate about traditional fitness programing – cycling classes, hitting the treadmill, etc. – are also embracing virtual technology as part of their workout. The success of Peloton’s live streaming classes and Beachbody’s on Demand Fitness Classes reveal people enjoy exercising with virtual group instruction.

“The beauty of digital workouts is people can do them whenever they want and can fully customize the experience,” said Samantha Poccia, a Boston-based fitness instructor who teaches both in-person and digital classes via fitness app MoveWith. “I often see people select a 15-minute run class, then do a 25-minute leg workout and finish with a 10-minute core-burn. The freedom these workouts creates is truly awesome.”

From a training perspective, these on demand options connect students to elite trainers and new fitness programs around the world in real time. On a personal level, they also allow students to hop in the same virtual spin class as a friend or relative who may live in a different state. They create exciting options for students to exercise, connect and push themselves. Offering on-demand fitness programming can make all the difference in inspiring a student to visit the recreation center over the weekend when traditional fitness class programming may not be possible. Knowing this, campus leaders should consider investing in resources and spaces that enable this type of training.

Embrace eSports

There’s no denying the popularity of e-Sports with projections suggesting it will generate nearly $1.5 Billion in revenue via 589 million users annually by the year 2020. If you’re unfamiliar, eSports translates to competitive video gaming. Depending on the game, eSports pit individuals or teams against one another in single games or tournaments to crown champions. Not surprisingly, eSports are most popular with younger generations and those soon to be living on college campuses across the country.

Campus recreation leaders can’t afford to ignore eSports. In fact, leading institutions are already investing in technology and creating spaces for eSports in their campus rec centers. They recognize the sports’ growing popularity as a means to engage an even greater percentage of the student population.

The first step in bringing eSports to your recreation center is investing in technology that supports competitive gaming and the games themselves. Hint: League of Legends is a good place to start. However, those who seek to be even more aggressive in luring eSports fans can also launch tournaments, form club teams and even seek out rival institutions with which to compete. To be most successful, recreation leaders should view eSports less as video games to be played in dorm rooms and more as a new source for intramural and club team competition.

Technology makes fitness and competition accessible anywhere, anytime. Rather than see tech as a competitor, campus recreation departments should embrace these new tools to encourage higher levels of engagement. From video games to virtual spin classes, technology creates new tools recreation teams can use to help them achieve their mission to connect with every student who calls their campus home.

By Karl Leabo and Sally Ostendorf,  key leaders in CannonDesign’s Sports + Recreation practice. They partner with colleges and universities across North America to create dynamic recreation centers that help them engage students and inspire success.

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