Students can face many barriers that might prevent them from participating in recreation programs. At the University of Waterloo, the department of athletics and recreation aims to break these down by offering the Move Your Mind program.
In 2013, Move Your Mind began when a student employee of athletics and recreation experienced the benefits of physical activity on her own mental health and was inspired to help others experience those same benefits. Through the collaboration of athletics and recreation, and health services, the program was born.
Here, Lindsey Gesch, the program coordinator for Move Your Mind, explains how the program works to benefit both students and campus recreation:
Campus Rec: How are program coordinators picked?
Lindsey Gesch: The program coordinator is a co-op position through the University of Waterloo. A new full-time coordinator is onboarded every four months and is an upper level student at the university.
CR: Can you go into detail about the role they play in assisting participants?
LG: The first step to assisting a participant is meeting them. After the coordinator receives referral information from our online referral system, the coordinator will reach out to set up an intake meeting within 48 hours of receiving the referral. In that intake meeting, they will address any barriers the participant is facing and discuss different strategies on how to overcome the barriers. Barriers can include motivation, accountability, finances, time, location, crowded spaces, etc. The main goal of the meeting is to get to know the student and what they hope to get out of the Move Your Mind program.
The Move Your Mind coordinator assists in finding an activity suitable to the participant’s interests, helps identify the participant’s specific needs and helps design SMART goals. We want to ensure the student feels comfortable in what they are doing and is enjoying themselves through getting active.
CR: Can you give some examples of how this program has helped to break down barriers for participants?
LG: For students who are facing barriers such as accountability and motivation, we utilize a variety of approaches, the most popular of which is our volunteer workout buddies. In our intake meeting, we ask participants if they would like a workout buddy who will go to the gym alongside them or participate in the fitness class with them so there is someone else who is keeping them accountable to getting active. The workout buddies help to encourage the participant and motivate them to go to their activity regularly. Feedback from participants has told us this is a main motivator for continued participation in the program.
If cost is a barrier to the participant’s chosen activity, we will request financial aid for that activity from the department, and it is received on a case by case basis. Each student may be facing different barriers, therefore the program looks different for each student. For students who prefer to work outside of gym, we will try and find activities they like outside such as running, playing frisbee or soccer. As barriers pop up, we address them in an honest and compassionate way so every student has the chance to find success.
CR: What is the benefit of this program for campus recreation?
LG: The benefit is we get to help a group of students access our services who might not access us on their own. By making physical activity more approachable, we can help cultivate independence and resiliency in our participants. Eventually, they might not need the support Move Your Mind can provide them, and they can become regular users of our space and programs. Additionally, Move Your Mind is a program that speaks directly to our mission as a department, which is to provide exceptional service and diverse programming through sport to enrich the student experience, promote wellness and inspire all warriors to reach their full potential. Move Your Mind does all those things.
CR: What advice do you have for other campus recreation departments who might consider offering a similar program?
LG: Our advice would be to not go it alone. Find the wellness champions on your campus and figure out ways to collaborate. We partner with a dozen different departments on campus that refer students to our program, and we would not have the reach and awareness we have were it not for our partners. We guarantee you have passionate individuals on your campuses that would love to partner with you to design a program like Move Your Mind, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask.
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