During our first two years at Wilmington College, my friend Joe and I noticed something was missing from our campus community: recreational sports. Our small, private college of only 1,100 students never had a true recreational sports program, but in August of our junior year we decided to change that. The two of us, along with the men's basketball team's associate head coach, attempted to start a recreational sports program for our student body.
Since the 2019 fall semester, recreation has consumed me — whether that means planning or being active myself. I love being able to build a strong sense of community at Wilmington, improve campus health at large, and use my creativity to build options that students will want to get involved in. I knew from the beginning stages of working in rec sports that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.
Over the past year-plus, however, the world has undergone some dramatic changes. In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and postponed daily life, recreational sports were put on hold along with most everything else. How does someone compete with others during a pandemic and stay safe? When would I be back on campus? When would everything go back to normal? I struggled to find adequate answers.
As time went on and the pandemic continued to change even simple daily tasks, I decided it was time to adapt with the world rather than wait. After adopting this mindset, I was constantly learning and brainstorming about how recreational sports fit in the new reality.
The first thing that I learned was the safety aspect of continuing rec sports on campus. How could we continue gathering while fighting something we can't see? We adopted every precaution that we could: mask requirements, social distancing and touchless temperature readings at events. The first sport we implemented was Cornhole, allowing us to easily control the number of people at an event. Since the activity was not strenuous, masks stayed on for participants and spectators alike. Safety should always be on the forefront of any rec leader's mind, and now it is even more urgent that it be the first step of planning any event.
I also learned the extent to which recreation can help people — physically, socially and mentally. There is an abundance of evidence that being involved in recreational activities improves physical wellbeing, but it also boosts student performance, mental health, intrinsic motivation and social life.
During the time period in which we live, I find one specific aforementioned category to be especially intriguing: mental health. In June 2020, the CDC performed a study on the mental health of adults, finding more than 30 percent suffer from anxiety or depression, and one in 10 adults had seriously contemplated suicide in the 30 days prior to the survey. Mental health needs more focused attention, and recreation is an amazing outlet to help people who are suffering.
I view recreation as more of a service that humans need to survive and thrive. Our society needs to stay active, we need to improve our health, and we all need to find something that brings us joy. Everyone has different interests, and variety is what makes recreation so beautiful. Recreation can be as simple as walking at your own pace while listening to music, or as demanding as playing rugby for a club team. As I move forward with my life, my goal is to find a fit in recreation where I can make a difference in the community. I know recreation has given me so much, and I cannot wait to be able to share it with others.
Cody Martin is a sport management major with a minor in communications at Wilmington College in Ohio.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "How Rec Sports Can Continue Changing Lives" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.