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Beyond sports: 4 ways investments in athletic facilities improve communities

July 14, 2020

By Scott Klaus

Athletic facilities and the millions spent on them each year are about more than just sports. They are a point of pride for communities.

As entire sports seasons have been put on hold or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the absence of sports has served to remind us of their importance. From gridirons to gymnasiums, from ice rinks to aquatic centers, athletic facilities serve as the anchor for many communities to congregate and participate in or cheer on games of friendly competition. They bring us together. And while they may look different in a post-COVID-19 world, these facilities will remain integral parts of our lives.

Millions of dollars are spent each year on athletic programs and facilities at every level, from high school programs to elite professional organizations. Athletic facilities are integral to our communities, schools, and cities serving people of all ages and skill levels. But why are sports so important and why do they play such a large part in our society? Why do we spend such large amounts of money on facilities for these sports to take place? Here are four ways athletics facilities impact students, schools, and the community.

1. The building blocks for important life skills

With most schools and athletic facilities shuttered during the pandemic, coaches have worked diligently to stay engaged with their student athletes by holding conference calls and providing workouts for athletes to stay in shape. However, training independently can only be successful to a point. Student athletes need access to facilities and to work with their teammates in order to hone their skills and learn from each other, and athletes and coaches alike are looking forward to the day these spaces can safely reopen. 

Gearing up for the game at Planet Ford Stadium in Spring Independent School District, Harris County, Texas.

In addition to keeping students active and healthy, athletics provide an opportunity for students to learn skills that they might not otherwise obtain in a classroom or other life experiences. Sports builds character and self-esteem by requiring students to understand what it means to compete, work hard, and lead. They can see the work that goes into practice translates into positive results on the field. It also teaches students to handle failure, criticism, pressure, adversity, and how to learn from their mistakes.

The ability to be coached is a life skill that serves all athletes well throughout their lives. Sports teaches students what it means to be part of a team that works together toward a common goal—and feeling accountable to others and accepting other’s mistakes.

2. A brighter social and economic future

Students who participate in sports also have higher attendance rates, missing five fewer school days per year, along with increased levels of engagement and better academic success in the form of higher grades and graduation rates. Additional studies have shown that student athletes are less likely to get pregnant or use drugs, both of which can have a detrimental effect on their ability to earn a high school diploma and maximize their lifetime earnings.

Athletics also provide opportunities for students who, due to their economic status, might not have the opportunity to get an education beyond high school. While the number of athletics scholarships by percentage is low, the NCAA reports that more than 150,000 student athletes receive nearly $3 billion in athletics scholarships every year from Division I and II schools. Division III schools are not allowed to award scholarships, but they are typically smaller private colleges who give merit awards for student accomplishments. Most of these athletes do not go into professional sports, but they are given the opportunity to earn a degree and choose a career, ultimately ending up with a much higher earning potential than they would have had otherwise.

3. A beacon of pride for the school and community

Athletic facilities represent a school district or community and are often the first introduction for visiting schools and communities that travel to watch their own students compete. Communities can have great pride in the facilities that they have been able to provide for their students. Likewise, facilities that are outdated, poorly maintained, or in disrepair can also be a source of shame. The pride an athletic facility creates can have a positive or negative impact on the attitude of the athletes and the overall performance of a team. We see this firsthand with projects like the Del Valle High School Athletics Facility, where the transformation from an inadequate sports complex to a collegiate-level design that celebrates hard work and student achievement has boosted athletic performance and created a sense of place and belonging. 

Athletics provide an opportunity for students to learn skills that they might not otherwise obtain in a classroom or other life experiences.

Communities can also benefit economically by providing athletic accommodations. For example, the 1,200-seat Westside Aquatic Center in Lewisville Independent School District, home to one of the only Myrtha competition pools in Texas, is capable of hosting large meets ranging from district championships and pro-am events to an international water polo tournament where teams from the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, and Japan competed for a spot in the 2016 FINA World League Super Final. These events draw people who then purchase goods, eat, and sleep in the area. Surrounding communities with lesser amenities are also likely to ask to rent out a neighboring facility like this for a playoff game to accommodate more spectators. Facilities can also be rented out to local teams and groups to help create revenue or offset maintenance costs.

While the impact of COVID-19 will almost certainly change the spectator experience, it will not eliminate in-person viewing in the long term. The world continues to adapt to new physical distancing standards to support public health, and sports complexes can use the lessons learned from other industries to ensure the safety of visitors. Changes in cleaning regimens and operational protocols will allow facilities to host spectators, which will continue to provide an economic boost for communities. 

The Westside Aquatic Center in Lewisville, Texas, houses the local high school swimming and diving programs, serves competitive swim teams, and provides scuba diving and swimming lessons to the surrounding communities.

4. Improving the experience for everyone

Modern educational sports facilities are being created to be more multipurpose and serve more than just the student athletes and marching bands. They are being created to support learning for careers that revolve around sports. Those careers include marketing, video editing, broadcast, technology, physical training, physical therapy, culinary, and event management. The sport facilities can simulate an experience that students could receive in the real world. In some cases, like Planet Ford Stadium, students are given a small stipend to operate the scoreboard for an evening.

There is often a negative perception about the funding that is allocated to the creation of stadiums and sport complexes, but the overall benefit to students and communities is immeasurable. I have great pride as an architect who has had the opportunity to design and deliver stadiums, arenas, natatoriums, and practice facilities to communities. There is nothing like seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of students, coaches, parents, and spectators on opening night. It is also wonderful to know what impact these places will have on communities for years to come.

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