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What started as a group of physical educators, teachers, and coaches, emerges as a profession

This is an excerpt from Campus Recreational Sports by NIRSA.


Both current and future professionals can rely on
Campus Recreational Sports

for guidance in the management of indoor and outdoor recreation and sport facilities.

Campus Recreational Sports as a Career

As the activity offerings grew and more campus facilities were dedicated specifically to recreational pursuits, institutions also needed more full-time administrators. As a result, what started as a group of physical educators, teachers, and coaches helping students plan sporting events eventually emerged as a profession in its own right—one that now includes a myriad of positions.

Scope of Employment

While the primary function of all campus recreational sports professionals is of course to provide recreation programs and services, the field now encompasses a diversity of positions, many of which require unique capabilities and skill sets. Career paths or areas of specialization include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Aquatics generally involves overseeing pool operations, maintenance, scheduling, risk management, and lifeguard training and scheduling. The aquatics administrator may be responsible for a number of pools—both indoor and outdoor—and for planning and administering programs in aquatic facilities.
  • Facility operations work involves supervising daily operations of facilities that provide activity areas, classrooms, and support areas (e.g., offices, locker rooms, and service or storage spaces). Depending on the institution, such facilities may include multiple indoor and outdoor areas. Supervision usually includes, among other responsibilities, daily and annual maintenance of facilities and equipment, logistical operations, risk management planning, scheduling of space usage, staffing, and activity set-up.
  • Fitness and wellness hasgrown so much in recent years that it may end up splitting into two sections, and the meaning of the term varies across campuses. Most campuses offer a formal group exercise program for students, as well as an informal or drop-in fitness or workout area for self-directed exercise. Other fitness services may include fitness testing, personal training, and nutrition planning or counseling. Wellness may encompass all of these endeavors and involve outreach or campus collaborations related to holistic wellness. Administration of such programs includes staffing, training, scheduling, and handling the logistical details of delivering the varied services.
  • Intramural sports is a term derived from a combination of two Latin words: intra, meaning “within,” and muralis, meaning “wall” (Mull, Bayless, Ross, & Jamieson, 1997, p. 84). Intramural sports, in turn, are competitive activities in which teams and individuals compete against others from within the same institution. Intramural sports administrators must create policies, develop appropriate rules for successful competitive events, train and evaluate sport officials, schedule the contests, and handle player conflicts.
  • Instructional programs provide knowledge and skill instruction to participants. Activities vary widely—from martial arts to cooking classes to children’s programming to dance. The administrator recruits and hires instructors with relevant expertise to teach specific classes within each topic area.
  • Marketing responsibilities involve developing a set of communications for the department to use in its delivery of programs and services. These administrators take part in campus outreach, establish a marketing plan for the department, conduct research to obtain information for program planning, and supervise staff efforts to prepare and disseminate publicity materials.
  • Membership services professionals develop membership policies, monitor information flow, administer program registration, and handle financial operations.
  • Programming for special populations addresses the fact that many campuses have significant populations with particular needs—for example, students with disabilities, graduate students with families, international students, and students of nontraditional age. Such students may be involved in mainline programs, but some campuses also conduct activities tailored specifically to a certain group (e.g., sports unique to a certain country, adaptations of traditional activities to remove barriers for people with a disability or for those with certain time or family constraints).
  • Outdoor recreation usually includes developing and administering trips and expeditions to wilderness areas, as well as providing instruction in outdoor endeavors such as camping, backpacking, cycling, rock climbing, and paddling. It may also involve overseeing experiential education, use of climbing walls or challenge courses, and outdoor equipment rental.
  • Sport clubs are student groups organized around a common activity interest. Group interests range from more traditional sports (e.g., ice hockey, volleyball) to less common activities such as martial arts, break dancing, and skiing. Groups develop a constitution, govern themselves, and use the campus recreational sports department for guidance in decision making and risk management.
  • Student development focuses on the intentional design of programs, services, and student staff positions to enhance learning and growth among student participants and student employees in campus recreational sports.
  • Youth programming and summer camp administrators develop summer (and perhaps year-round) programming for children and families. This type of programming is also likely to include outreach to the general community. This area of work may interrelate with programming for special populations (e.g., to serve nontraditional-aged students with children).

Though each of these areas involves unique preparation and expertise, they all require practitioners to apply management principles of planning, scheduling, communicating, budgeting, staffing, assessing risk, allocating resources, and implementing plans.

Job Titles and Responsibilities

Institutions often use their own unique titles to indicate specific levels of responsibility on their particular campus. Organizational structure—which establishes the reporting lines of the organization—also varies widely across the country. It is based on many factors: the structure of the institution itself; the institution’s population (e.g., the total number of students; the mix of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and other characteristics such as student age and residency); and the placement of the campus recreational sports program, which may be located in student affairs, auxiliary services, athletics, or another administrative area. For example, though this is not always the case, an institution with a large undergraduate population is more likely than a smaller one to establish a large campus recreational sports department that includes many levels of staff and offers a myriad of programs and services.

As a result, when pursuing job opportunities in the field, you are well advised to explore the unique characteristics of each position and institution. Pay close attention to the job description and list of responsibilities. A position listed as coordinator at one school may be comparable to a director position at another school or assistant director at a third school. Some assistant director positions are considered to be entry-level—that is, jobs for someone with little experience—whereas others require several years of professional experience. One important distinction between even entry-level recreation positions in the collegiate setting and those in other areas of recreation is that almost all campus recreational sports positions require in-depth experience (e.g., a graduate assistantship) and a degree beyond the bachelor’s degree. The following overview lists various job titles found in university recreation departments and outlines general duties and responsibilities commonly associated with various levels of responsibility. Remember, however, that the level of responsibility assigned to a title may vary between institutions.

  • Directors provide organizational vision and direction, strategic leadership and planning, budget management, and positioning of the department on campus. The director reports to someone outside of the department at an upper administrative level.
  • Associate directors frequently supervise other professional staff members, serve as a liaison between them and the director, guide their direct reports (i.e., staff supervised by the associate director) in implementing their programs and services, help with long-range planning, and assist the director in leading the organization. These are senior staff members. See figure 2.1 for a sample job description for an associate director position.
  • Assistant directors usually oversee and are directly involved in implementing a specific program, facility, or service area. They may supervise other professional staff, and they supervise student staff involved in the delivery of a specific area. Depending on staff size and scope, this may be an entry-level position. See figure 2.2 for a sample job description for an assistant director position.
  • Coordinators work in direct delivery of a program, facility, or service area and may supervise relevant student staff. This is usually an entry-level position.



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