The Future of Campus Recreation After COVID-19

after COVID-19

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Since the closure of campus recreation centers, programs are quickly developing online experiences and resources for our members to stay engaged. The pandemic has not only shown humans desire to stay safe and secure, but we desire to feel connected and entertained. An amazing amount of content has been created to keep students engaged. Our staff is hoping we can keep students from breaking their workout routines and habits and keep our community mentally and physically healthy while we go through this historic event. It is important we continue focusing on this today, but how should we prepare for when we return to campus?

Although it is impossible to predict entirely how consumer behavior will change, positive news for fitness enthusiasts is that old habits do return even after being dormant for some time, as shared in “Understanding Today and Tomorrow: A Nuanced Foundation.” Those behaviors may be augmented but not eliminated. Those that have strong or ingrained workout routines will return to them in a matter of time. However, we cannot anticipate all will be normal after we reopen our rec centers. According to a study by Kelton Global, a strategic consulting agency, Gen Zers are feeling more affected by our social situation than other age groups, especially in terms of feelings of isolation and mental health. The above article states, “Our findings suggest COVID-19 could be a watershed moment for Gen Z — like 9/11 or the 2009 recession were for Millennials. And Millennials, still feeling the influence of both, are anticipating another defining event.”

Research director Lauren Murphy explains why major life shifts present new opportunities for brands to reach consumers and what that means for brands in the face of our new coronavirus reality in the article, “Consumer Psychology and Coronavirus: Turning New Habits into Opportunities.” She writes: “The pandemic has broken habits we’ve relied on and put it in a state of uncertainty. However, this can be seen as an opportunity to break away from habits and see things you may not have seen or experienced while in the comfort of our daily habitual lives.”

We will be faced with challenges and opportunities when our recreation centers reopen after COVID-19. How can we improve the student experience we may not have considered previously? Let’s consider what our trajectory might be after the pandemic:

  • A reduction in class sizes and reorganization of workout spaces to continue safe social distancing practices.
  • Improving cleaning standards, custodial measures and the development of advanced cleaning materials.
  • Providing special offers, promotions, services or hours for those who were seriously affected by the pandemic.
  • Increase in the development of small accessory items (fitness kits) sold so students have the ability to work out from home.
  • Exploring nature closer to home at a slower pace.
  • Bringing more services directly to the students.
  • Strengthening our recreation families by focusing on the health and safety of our staff.
  • Increase desire to develop meaningful friendships and experiences.
  • Decrease in participation in youth programming due to family financial hardships.
  • Continuing the development of online resources and virtual classes.
  • Increase in partnerships with vendors and app companies.
  • Increased use and development of fitness and meditation apps.
  • Staffing issues due to no-longer-certified staff once recreation centers open, such as lifeguards and water safety instructors.
  • Ability to work remotely as staff becomes familiar with online trainings, project management and conferencing.
  • Better prepared for future closures or disruptions to programming.

These are just a few possibilities of changes to come after COVID-19, as gathered from various recreation programs. Times are uncertain, and how and where we will be several months from now is unknown. Let’s remain optimistic but prepared for challenges, changes and anticipate how we can move forward in a way that improves the student experience.

When our campus communities are able to return to classes and return to recreation centers after COVID-19, our professional staff believe after a short drop in participants, there will soon be a strong desire to jump into the energizing atmosphere of our recreation centers and students will be eager to join the fitness community and explore the opportunities we have to offer once again.

Sarah Cole
Sarah Cole has a BA in Studio Art from the University of Arizona and an MFA in Electronic Media Arts Design from the University of Denver. She has worked in recreation marketing for over nine years in the United States and Europe. She currently is the recreation marketing coordinator at the University of California, Riverside recreation department.

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