My programing Philosphy KIN 582 | Spring 2017 | Photos & Words by Connor Woisard

Programing + Me

When I look back at my time as an undergraduate student at Old Dominion University, it shocks me how much time I spent at the SRC (Student Recreation Center). Whether it was working as a student employee, playing intramural sports, or just showing up to workout in between classes, it’s hard to recall a day that didn’t have some portion of it spent taking advantage of the recreational programs that Old Dominion had to offer. It wasn’t until my senior year that I began to understand and the positive effects that spending so much time at the SRC had on my development as a student and person. I felt more equipped to take on the world outside of my college campus from health and wellness stand point and in regards to the professional challenges I might face. It was also around this time to that I began to see that my experience was by no means accident and instead the result of a deliberate and effective approach to developmental programing.

Now that I’m graduate assistant working within a recreational department, not only do I have a stronger understanding of the purpose and importance of these programs, but it’s also become clear that there is a variety of ways to go about creating them. When I reflect on the variety of benefits that I received from being involved, it underlines the importance of understanding what goes into building a program from the ground up.

When I began to develop my own philosophy for programming in campus recreation, several different elements stood out as integral parts of creating successful programs that would provide other students with the same benefits that I experienced at ODU. By looking at the goals and outcomes associated with campus recreation, the benefits for the end user of basing programs around the concept of “Play”, and the importance of keeping programs active in nature, I believe that I have identified a basic strategy for creating programs and have started to develop my personal philosophy.

A pano photo from the Old Dominion University's King of the Court Homecoming Basketball Tournament. This was an event that myself and two other student employees conceptualized, pitched to our director, and then held during homecoming. Planning the event was a major milestone in my development as an undergraduate and was possible due to the support of the SRC. This tournament still happens every year and has become a premier homecoming event!
The planning committee with the championship team after the first year of holding the tournament.

Outcomes for Campus Recreation Programs

With developing any type of strategy or approach, I think it’s always important to begin by identifying a clear purpose and set of goals. It’s difficult to choose a route or path –or in this case a philosophy- when it’s unclear what the final destination is. In my experience as a participant and a student employee, a campus recreation department’s core purpose and goal is to develop the students that use their facilities and take part in their programs. This development happens in a variety of ways but the overall theme is that these programs contribute to creating a more complete student that higher education institutions aim to send off into the work force.

Recreation programs for the most part have been widely successful in achieving a more developed student. Specifically related to health and overall wellness, 75% of college students said that participating in using recreational facilities and taking part in recreation programs has expanded their interest in staying fit and healthy. Looking outside the lens of healthy lifestyles, 64% of students said that their participation in these same programs provided them with skills/abilities that will use after college.

It’s also important to recognize that these programs also contribute to their institution’s goals as well. Campus recreation programs plays a large role in attracting new students to institutions and aid in keeping current ones enrolled. More than half of college students surveyed said that their decision to attend a university was largely impacted by what recreational programs were offered at that school.

Taking this into account, I think the objective of a programmer should revolve around two main goals when developing programs. The first being that programs should be active in nature but diverse in the skills they develop. If 62% of students are recognizing that they’re learning a variety skills applicable to life after college, it’s clear that recreational facilities and programs are sufficient for developing students in ways that are not always directly related to health and fitness. As I said they should be active in nature as to stay in line with the core competency of a recreational department, but the goal should aim to reach beyond that. The second main objective is continue to create innovative programs that attract new and keep current students at their institutions. I think this is goal is often overlooked but is extremely important in the sense that without the institution, a campus recreation program isn’t necessarily possible.

The Concept of PLay in Programing

The concept of play is based around the idea that “playing” has a number of long-term physiological and physical benefits for animals and humans. Engaging in play throughout the different stages of life can improve everything from a person’s social tendencies to their problem-solving skills. One of the most important benefits is that play is the brains way of training and developing itself to face unexpected challenges. Play also can combat a variety of mental health issues such as depression and other disorders.

Dr. Stuart Brown, the man responsible for championing the concept, says play can be constituted as something that is apparently purposeless, is voluntary, and has an inherent attraction for the participant. Play should be something that people engage with naturally for no other real reason than that they want to do it. Put simply, play is something that’s fun. Keeping this is mind offers a framework for designing programs to be playful in nature because it serves the idea of being developmental in nature but also having a natural attraction from the users.

The bridge between programing and play becomes obvious when you begin to look at the different at how people are categorized in the way they play. Brown offers eight different play personalities that all have specific qualities that speak to the way they engage with play. They range from “The Competitor” who reaches the state of play by being involved in activities that are competitive and often produce a clear winner, all the way to the “Explorer” who finds their state of play when having new experiences or visiting new destinations.

Its these personalities in combination with the attributes of play that offer a solid starting point for developing programs. As discussed earlier, if one of the core objectives of a program is to be student centric, the play personalities should be a guide for designing something with the end user in mind.

A good example of this could be something related to an intramural sports program. A programmer could create a concept based around the competitor play personality. Thinking about an end user that enjoys competing in an environment that’s focused on winning allows you to build the developmental components in once the initial attraction piece has been established. After you know have an interest from participants, then you can begin introducing things that promote leadership skills or accountability. You begin to push people who simply enjoy competing to take responsibility over their team when it comes to registration, planning, and scheduling. They’re doing all these things that teach and develop their skills all while being engaged with something that they see as a fun activity.

Another example could be a program related to outdoor and adventure that aims to teach the introductory skills for rock climbing. You might be able to make the assumption that the end user falls within the explorer play personality. Again, you’d assume that the initial attraction is rooted in the idea that they seek out new experiences but the developmental component comes from the skills that are taught within the application of play. Attention to detail, the importance of choosing the proper equipment, or even something more abstract such as having greater understanding of the consequences of your own physical actions are all things that are taught to the user while they’re engaged with play.

Play Personalities (Encourageplay.com)

Sparking Activity

I think a defining characteristic of a campus recreational department and the programs that it offers is that they are active in nature. College students see and expect the opportunities that are offered by recreation programs to have some sort of physical component involved when they show up to participate. I would argue this expectation is more than fair considering the vast majority of the activities they are involved with during the school day are sedentary (class, studying, etc.). I believe that it’s the responsibility of campus recreation professionals to meet this need.

Keeping programs active has a number of benefits outside of the realm health and wellness as well. Although exercising regularly can help with staying fit and other obvious health related issues, engaging in cardiovascular based exercise can be effective as medication when combatting things such as depression and anxiety. It also can slow the effects of ageing. In his book Spark, John Ratey says exercise “tricks the brain tying to maintain itself for survival despite the hormonal cues that it is aging”.

By far the biggest –and what I believe to be the most relevant- piece of information that Ratey offers is the effect that exercise has on ones ability to learn and retain information. When the body engages in exercise it stokes up neurons and forges the structures necessary for transmitting information. This is important when you begin to think about the environment that is the college experience. Students are constantly being bombarded with huge amounts of information that they are forced to retain. If being active can help and encourage the brain to be more efficient in this process this gives us another starting point to begin planning and forming a concept for programs. If you can give students the opportunity to get their blood pumping –especially before they engage in their studies- you begin to contribute to not only their physical goals but also their academic ones.

Bringing it all Together

My experience as undergrad was defined by a deliberate approach to programming and because of it I experienced many benefits that I still see today. I think the same opportunities can be provided to students when a clear strategy is implemented. By beginning with an understanding of the goals and purpose of a campus recreation department and the programs it offers, you can develop a clear path for eventually reaching what you’re trying to accomplish. In my opinion, the main goal and objective for campus recreation departments is to develop students within the realm of healthy lifestyles and to give them opportunities to practice other professional skills that support their future endeavors. Identifying how you can develop those professional skills could be best approached by using the concept of play to better understand the end user. If you can build a natural attraction to program, development will occur in other areas while still being in a state of play. Finally, as campus recreation professionals it should be a major objective to keep programs active in order to contrast the sedentary activities students do for the majority of their day. Doing this not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also supports other academic and learning goals.

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All Photos taken by Connor Woisard

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