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The college recreational sports learning environment

A study of learning outcomes associated with sport club participation

National Research Institute

Investigators: Danell Haines and Tyler Fortman

In addition to the known benefits from physical activity, college students achieve a great deal from college recreational sports (CRS) programs, whether by participating in programs, patronizing services, or using CRS facilities. Justification for the resources required to provide these services, facilities and programs is a necessity. The need for budget accountability makes the identification of learning outcomes even more critical.

According to the investigators, learning outcomes describe results, either positive or negative, that are attributed to participation or exposure to certain kinds of activities or programs. Given that learning occurs in large part outside of the classroom as well as inside, effective learning includes many different modes of learning in different contexts. The investigators aimed to determine the learning outcomes associated with one component of CRS, sport clubs.


Instrument development
To measure sport club outcomes, a proxy pretest - posttest design was used. The sport club participants reported the outcomes they believed they had achieved using a survey with 41 outcome items designed by the investigators. The survey had two columns labeled "Before" and "Now." The "Before" rating was according to the participant's perceived level without involvement in sport clubs. The "Now" rating was based on the participant's level due to their involvement in sport clubs. A 10-point scale was used to rate the perceived level in each column. A quasi-experimental approach was used. The proxy pretest - posttest design mirrors a pre-post experimental design, but collects pretest data after the treatment (in this case sport club participation) has begun. The investigators are aware that this methodology creates limitations for interpretation. On the other hand, proxy pretest designs are effective at accurately measuring participants' perception of their skill at a previous point in time.

The instrument's outcome items were developed from numerous sources. To begin, the combined NIRSA General Standards and Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) document was reviewed. Next, NIRSA professionals met with the National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports to discuss outcomes associated with sport club volleyball outcomes. The investigators also used outcomes discussed during a workshop facilitated by Dr. Jeanne Steffes, past president of the American College Personnel Association (Steffes, 2007). Finally, the measures obtained were gathered and discussed with Ohio State University sport club staff and members. The result was a 41-item instrument. Upon being pilot tested for content and readability, the survey was administered in spring 2007.

The survey was administered to Washington State University (n=148) and The Ohio State University (n=190) sport club participants and to the NIRSA National Collegiate Volleyball Championship participants (n=616). NIRSA had requested that the Research Institute gather outcome data on sport club volleyball players as part of another study funded by NIRSA.

To determine if a significant difference exists between the "Before" and "Now" perceived scores, a paired sample t-test statistic was used. The amount that the mean of the outcome increased from "Before" and "Now" was also calculated.

As noted in the table below, there was an increase in all of the outcome items and all "before" to "now" differences were significant (p=.001). Participants demonstrated the greatest gains in Travel Planning Skills, Sense of Belonging, Time Management, School Pride, and Overall Leadership Development. The lowest rated items prior to sport club participation were "Time Management" and "Managing Finances." The lowest rated item on the "Now" column was "Managing Finances."

Sport Club Participant Outcomes - Rank Ordered by Difference between "Before" and "After" Sport Club Experience (n=954)

  Before Now  
Outcome Mean Std. Deviation Mean Std. Deviation Difference
Travel Planning Skills 6.79 1.86 8.26 1.47 1.48
Sense of Belonging 7.19 1.72 8.66 1.24 1.47
Time Management 6.57 1.85 8.03 1.40 1.46
School Pride 7.32 1.99 8.75 1.56 1.43
Overall Leadership Development 7.28 1.59 8.62 1.26 1.34
Confidence in Ability to Lead 7.34 1.73 8.66 1.35 1.32
Confidence You Will Succeed Given a Specific Task 7.48 1.88 8.80 1.36 1.32
Self-Esteem 7.33 1.75 8.64 1.22 1.32
Understanding the Importance of Managing Finances 7.13 1.93 8.40 1.44 1.26
Ability to Provide Constructive Criticism to Peers 7.08 1.58 8.24 1.27 1.16
Meaningful Interpersonal Relationships 7.36 1.67 8.51 1.26 1.14
Number of Diversity Experiences 7.16 2.16 8.24 1.63 1.08
Healthy Behaviors 7.08 1.74 8.15 1.39 1.07
Ability to Receive Constructive Criticism from Peers 7.22 1.69 8.27 1.25 1.05
Independence 7.82 1.85 8.85 1.18 1.02
Extroversion 7.31 1.88 8.32 1.57 1.01
Effective Communication 7.57 1.56 8.56 1.17 .99
Organization 7.02 1.79 8.01 1.50 .99
Realistic Self-Appraisal 7.41 1.85 8.40 1.46 .99
Satisfying and Productive Lifestyle 7.79 1.59 8.76 1.12 .97
Non-stereotyping Behavior 7.83 2.61 8.80 2.87 .96
Patience 7.17 1.80 8.12 1.56 .96
Role Modeling 7.66 1.64 8.60 1.32 .94
Accountability 7.72 1.65 8.64 1.23 .92
Tactful Communication 7.55 1.57 8.47 1.24 .92
Ability to Praise Peers 7.87 1.53 8.77 1.15 .89
Expanded Personal and Educational Goals 7.89 1.56 8.78 1.22 .89
Managing Finances 6.89 1.86 7.75 1.65 .85
Problem Solving Skills 7.79 1.46 8.61 1.18 .82
Ability to Tactfully Lose 7.56 1.93 8.37 1.58 .81
Collaboration 7.71 1.49 8.52 1.16 .81
Knowledge of Diversity 7.79 1.78 8.52 1.37 .73
Punctuality 7.41 1.90 8.14 1.55 .73
Understanding my Values 7.74 1.60 8.45 1.25 .72
Anger Management 7.44 1.93 8.14 1.59 .70
Critical Thinking 7.91 1.54 8.59 1.21 .68
Sportsmanship 8.23 1.61 8.91 1.17 .68
Appreciation of Diversity 7.82 1.78 8.50 1.44 .67
Humility 7.46 1.80 8.13 1.68 .67
Respect for Opponents 8.07 1.60 8.73 1.30 .66
Respect for Yourself 8.18 1.65 8.85 1.22 .66

Astin's (1984) theory of student involvement provides a solid theoretical foundation to explain the results of this study and provide reasons for CRS's impact on student out-of-classroom learning. A student's environment influences his or her development - the premise of Astin's (1984) theory. Outcomes require the investment of physical and psychological energy. The theory of student involvement surmises that students achieve learning outcomes only after committing time and physical and psychological energy. In simple terms, the more engaged the student is with the campus environment, the more opportunities there are for learning to occur. Astin's (1984) first principle explains that recreational sport participants invest both physical and psychological energy into their activities; thus, great gains were expected and indeed achieved as a result of participation.

Astin's theory of student involvement provides another rationale for the significant gains in student learning. CRS serve as a mediating mechanism by which educational programs can be translated into student development. Lombardo and Eichinger (2004) suggest time management, effective communication, and leadership skills are crucial to employment - all of which demonstrated statistically significant gains as a result of recreational sport participation. These gains are likely due to associations with other students as a result of participation. Astin (1984) suggests that fellow students are a resource from which students learn. Therefore, participating in programs and services that create opportunities for student interaction are certain to create gains in out-of-classroom learning. Rosenshine (1982, as cited in Astin, 1984) suggested that learning will be the greatest when the learning environment is structured to encourage "active participation" by the student.

Upon further review, it became obvious that potential negative outcomes were missing from the survey. For example, the literature suggests a possible association between sports, physical activity, and exercise and the following negative outcomes: alcohol consumption, injuries, over exercising, anorexia/bulimia, steroid use, and exposure to environmental dangers (UV light, sunburn, frostbite, etc.). It will be valuable for CRS administrators to know of the negative participant outcomes associated with CRS programs. Interventions can be developed with the aim of overcoming these outcomes and tested to determine their efficacy in reducing the behavior. Future outcome instruments developed by the authors will include the negative outcomes related to participation.

Participation in sport clubs breeds tremendous amounts of learning outcomes. The ideal result is that outcomes will reflect the learning outcomes or objectives that sport club administrators hope to establish for their programs. Also, new program objectives can be based on substandard ratings on outcomes deemed "favorable." This study supports the need for CRS programs on campuses and educates college administrators on student CRS participation. The justification of CRS growth in programs, facilities, and services offered depends on these conclusions.

This project serves as the groundwork and foundation for other CRS program outcome measure instruments. The copyrighted instrument used in this study is being adapted to the following CRS areas: Informal (Drop In) Recreation; Student Staff; Intramural Sports; Structured Fitness Programs; Adapted Recreational Sports; and Outdoor Adventure Recreation. The complete results from this study have been submitted to the editor of the Recreational Sports Journal.

The National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports & Wellness thanks NIRSA for supporting the sport club volleyball portion of this study.

Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40 (5), 518-529.

Lombardo, M.M. & Eichinger, R.W. (2004) FYI: For Your Improvement, A Guide for Development and Coaching (4th Edition). Lominger Ltd. Inc.

National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (2000). Quality and importance of recreational services (QIRS). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Steffes, J. (May 16, 2007). College recreation outcome measures. Workshop presented at the Big Ten Recreational Sports Directors Conference, West Lafayette, IN.

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