NIRSA HOME National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association    
 February 2007 • NIRSA news and information
Front Page Membership Education Conference & Expo Sports Foundation Leadership Notes Research


Creating a research culture in college recreational sports


Departments of college recreational sports have had to struggle for recognition in academe because of their traditional role as a service provider for the campus community. Furthermore, this emphasis on service has limited the development of productive researchers and research agendas. The knowledge base that currently exists to support college recreational sports (CRS) simply is not adequate for the challenges faced by today’s CRS professional. For example, additional CRS data is needed to justify funding, to ensure data-driven decisions, and to demonstrate the impact that CRS has on students, faculty, and staff. The NIRSA QIRS (Quality and Importance of Recreational Services) survey, no longer in circulation, initiated measuring the outcomes from participation in CRS. Currently, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) provides a book of professional standards in higher education. How these standards will be measured within CRS is not known and is currently being investigated. Research that provides data leading to evidence-based CRS services and standards is also needed.

Evidence is knowledge that is generated from competent inquiry (Thomas, 2006). In other words, there is a need to obtain valid data that confirms the critical role that CRS has on college campuses and data that assists us in making decisions on how we develop, expand, and manage CRS. An example of research that supports CRS is the NIRSA publication (2004), “Value of Recreational Sports in Higher Education.” The data presented in this book concluded that campus recreation contributes significantly and in diverse ways to the college student “out of classroom” learning experience. This book provides evidence on the key role that CRS plays on campuses. In addition to conducting research that promotes CRS, research that assists the CRS professional in decision-making should be ongoing.

Evident by the increase in Professional Members in NIRSA and by the number of new CRS facilities built in the past decade, CRS has grown and become more sophisticated in ways once believed impossible. However, research has not “taken off” as part of our professional ethos. The question that needs to be investigated is, “how do we as a profession build research capacity—a process of individual and institutional development that leads to higher skills and greater ability to perform useful research (Trostle, 1992—and thus research productivity?” By investigating ways to build research capacity in college departments known as “service” providers, we gain an understanding of what is needed to build research capacity within CRS Departments.

There is a dearth of published research that directly addresses research capacity building within CRS. On the other hand, there is advice which can be drawn upon from the research capacity-building ideas presented in the student affairs and medical literature. Within the past decade, offices of student affairs have expanded to include research and assessment arms. Such expansion was due to demands for accountability, the need to make decisions on the basis of facts, and the desire to respond to students’ needs and preferences (Moxley, 1999, p.11). Since a majority of CRS departments report to the offices of student affairs on college campuses, a literature search specific to student affairs research was conducted using ERIC (Educational Research Information Center) and Social Sciences Citation Index. The terms that were searched included “research agendas,” “research capacity building,” “research promotion,” and “research skills.”

Since no publications were found, the medical literature was reviewed using Medline, the leading medical citation index. The authors justified using medical literature based on the fact that physicians and CRS professionals are service providers, and just as physicians provide medical services to their patients and conduct research to ensure “best practice,” CRS professionals provide recreational services to the campus community and should conduct research to ensure data-driven decisions. After searching Medline, using the same terms as in the student affairs literature search, four themes related to building research capacity appeared consistently in the literature: creating a research culture; developing and practicing research skills; selecting or being a research mentor; and providing research resources. The purpose of this article is to expound on the first theme, creating a research culture within college recreational sports.

While conducting focus groups with CRS professionals for a previous study on the barriers to research in CRS, it became clear that many professionals remember research in a negative manner, as a hurdle to a degree or a graduation requirement. Most thought that research was solely academic and that their skills would not be utilized after graduation (Haines & Farrell, 2006). As our profession changes, data is needed to support administrative decisions, justify funding allocation, and to ensure that the needs of our campus community and the mission of our department are met. In brief, CRS professionals need to resurrect their research skills to assist in developing a CRS culture that practices and reports research.

A culture is usually characterized by shared values (Sylvester, 2003). Consequently, a research culture would denote that those affiliated with a given organization or department have comparable positive views about the role of research within the profession and/or the department. For a paradigm shift to occur in CRS professionals’ view of research, the research culture of NIRSA and departments of CRS need to continue to grow. To begin, the profession (NIRSA) is committed to research, evident by the partnership with the National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports & Wellness, involvement on the Institute Advisory Board, continuation of the research committee, hosting a research symposium at the Annual Conference, offering preconference workshops related to research, and giving an annual award for the best research publication. Additionally, NIRSA has supported research that demonstrates the benefits of CRS.

Within departments of CRS, the organizational culture, influenced largely by the attitude of department directors and associate directors, has to be supportive of research and regard it as integral to the planning and delivery and CRS services, as opposed to research being seen as a separate, elitist, academic activity. Directors must lead by example and take an evidence-based approach in their decision-making. Further, CRS directors should contemplate the inclusion of research in their departmental mission, as recommended by Kitson (1997) and Kiger (1994), and within new job descriptions, use previous research experience as a measure of commitment to the field of CRS, and expect leaders in their department to both participate in research and make data-driven decisions. The development of a culture of learning and inquiry will require a long-term commitment by the profession and individual departments and a focus on core principles by individuals and organizations.

For additional information on building research capacity within college recreational sports, see the article “Building Research Capacity in College Recreational Sports” in the upcoming Recreational Sports Journal.


Haines, D.J., & Farrell, A. (2006). The barriers to college recreational sports research, publishing and presenting. Recreational Sports Journal, 30, 14-123.

Kiger, A (1994). Nursing education and the research assessment exercises. Nurse Researcher, 1, 85-95.

Kitson, A (1997). Lessons from the 1996 research assessment exercise. Nurse Researcher, 4, 81-93.

Moxley, L.S. (1999). Student Affairs research and evaluation. New Directions for Student Services, 85, 11-22.

National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. (2004). The value of recreational sports in higher education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Sylvester, S. (2003). Measuring the learning practice: Diagnosing the culture in general learning. Quality in Primary Care, 11(1), 29-40.

Trostle, J. (1992). Research capacity building in international health: Definitions, evaluations and strategies for success. Social Science and Medicine, 35, 1321-1324.

NIRSA Know is a service of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
NIRSA National Center: 4185 SW Research Way, Corvallis, Oregon 97333-1067
tel: 541-766-8211 • fax: 541-766-8284 • email:
Copyright ©2007 National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
Archives | Search | Contact Us