There is clear evidence that demand exists among both men and women for opportunities to compete and socialize after college has ended. Co-ed sports leagues for twenty and thirty-somethings continue to grow in popularity, especially in urban locations. For example, the Kickball League of Baltimore ballooned from four teams in 2001 to 260 in 2012; this trend is not limited to the East Coast or kickball specifically, as the Sport & Social Industry Association estimated annual participant numbers around 1.2 million in 2015. However, this demand is not limited to post-college individuals, and athletic departments would do well in expanding their co-ed club and intramural offerings.
Most schools have discovered the appeal and benefits of intramural athletics for their student bodies. Aiming to foster goodwill and community on campus, intramurals are not a new phenomenon. There is a national governing body (NIRSA), conferences, and thousands of annual collegiate participants. IMs are a staple at most universities, so what needs to be said?
Where schools are missing-out and could improve is in adapting what the sport and social industry has shown to be in-demand among recent college graduates. What things are national sport and social companies like ZogSports doing that athletic and rec departments might want to take note of?
Make more sports co-ed, including some club teams
The compulsion to isolate genders in various IM and club sports has led to two sets of teams playing the same games separately or certain offerings being limited to either just men or women. This division not only is essentially unnecessary today, but limits a social opportunity often sorely needed on campuses, where male/female interaction is frequently limited to only a couple venues. The exceedingly valuable practice of interacting with people different from oneself toward a common goal is the type of experiential education colleges should embrace.
Introduce unique, lesser-known games and sports as IMs
More co-ed opportunities also allow for greater diversity of offerings, including regional sports as well as potentially games unique to the university that build community and school pride. Lesser-known and up-and-coming options, including e-sports and other gaming opportunities, increase the chances there will be something for nearly everyone to enjoy.
Offer a range of skill levels
Competing in a new sport is intimidating, especially if those around you have extensive experience. Therefore, it is vital to imitate social sports leagues and offer a range of skill levels and intensities in IM sports. Remembering the goal is community and growth, creating an inclusive environment where anyone can feel comfortable is paramount, and fellow players teaching and supporting one-another is an invaluable growth opportunity.
Build-in a social component
One of the primary reasons social sports are succeeding at an unprecedented level is because they offer easy interactions and opportunities to socialize. Meeting and interacting with new people can be challenging in college; oftentimes students feel they’re limited to introductions at parties, which can be a difficult scene in-and-of-itself. Having a common interest through a team or sport can immediately make meeting new people easier, and athletic/rec departments should embrace this opportunity to offer an alternative forum for socializing.