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Designing with the Student-Athlete in Mind

Texas Tech University Indoor Sports Performance Facility

The world of collegiate athletics is engaged in a high-stakes facilities arms race. Athletic departments continue to invest in bigger, better and more advanced training facilities and academic centers for student athletes. The first and foremost purpose of these facilities is the initial recruitment of top prospects—the ability to get blue-chip athletes on campus. The second, and often underestimated purpose is to retain and prepare student athletes once they arrive on campus. This dual intent means that facilities must stay relevant in recruiting while continuing to meet the needs of 17- to 23-year-olds as their priorities evolve throughout their collegiate athletic career.

The Recruit – Designing for the Procession

In recent years, it has become clear that prospective student athletes are seeking far more from university athletic facilities than their predecessors. The most memorable recruiting trips give the athlete an opportunity to experience what it would be like to attend that institution—to envision themselves as an essential part of the athletic program. In response, Gensler Sports has developed a design strategy specifically for training facilities and academic centers, which aids the design team in crafting spaces that facilitate this immersive experience. This strategy was put to the test in the development of the Texas Tech Sports Performance Center.

During an early stage planning exercise at Texas Tech University, the design team adopted the perspective of the recruit. While collaborating with Texas Tech, the Gensler design team crafted a compelling series of experiences that put the vision of the athletic program on display, not just the facility. We refer to this process as “Designing for the Procession.” We began with the understanding that each sport, coach and institution have a unique recruiting philosophy and story. The facility was then designed to reflect and enhance that narrative, making it integral to the recruiting process. For this project, our team invested in researching the experience, knowledge and perspectives of the University’s coaching staff and student athletes, which proved to be invaluable in developing the design narrative. Through this research methodology, the design team responded to a series of questions that established the design intent and helped bring the story to life.

Texas Tech University Indoor Track

The Texas Tech Sports Performance Center presents the walkthrough as a curated experience for the recruit, not merely a facilities tour. The experience leverages the power of the Texas Tech brand and showcases experiential environments that elevate the image of the athletic program and allows the recruit to be immersed in what the program represents. This procession manifests as a literal “recruiting pathway” throughout the facility. Developing this path in advance allows the design team to make educated decisions on where to invest project dollars in the most meaningful and impactful way. Texas Tech Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt put it best: "First-class facilities like the new Sports Performance Center give our fans unforgettable game day experiences, help recruit top student-athletes and ensure that our fearless champions remain competitive."

Remaining competitive requires thoughtful and inspirational design. At Texas Tech, a succession of high impact spaces, graphics, branding and athlete amenities take an active role in setting the tone of a recruiting visit. The facility will provide both talking points for the conversation between the recruit and coaching staff and an opportunity for the prospective athlete to imagine themselves with a starring role in the next chapter of the program’s story. At the end of the procession, the athlete arrives at a key location where the coaching staff has the opportunity to make a scholarship offer or secure a commitment.

Texas Tech University Weight Room

The Athlete – Designing for the Long Term Once an athlete commits to the program and arrives on campus, his or her priorities can evolve rapidly. The parts of the program that initially drew them to campus may be quickly supplanted by aspects that were previously overlooked. While high quality facilities certainly influence recruitment, their often underestimated and undervalued role is in maintaining a high level of athlete satisfaction once a student athlete has arrived on campus.

Perception is a vital, albeit intangible issue. The time, energy and funds dedicated to a program conveys a message to the student athlete about their perceived value. A small, targeted investment in facilities can send a message that a program is fundamentally worth investing in and, by association, that the athlete is also worthy of investment.

When a student athlete actually arrives on campus he or she begins to truly realize the amount of time that will be spent in these facilities. At Texas Tech, the environment elicits a sense of belonging to the larger Texas Tech Athletics family. Training spaces, academic centers, nutrition and dining facilities, and sports medicine will serve as “home” for a majority of a student athlete’s waking hours. Much as the quality of a work environment directly impacts the way an employee feels and performs, the caliber of athletic facilities has a direct impact on the quality of student athletes’ day-to-day lives and their performance on the field.

In the words of Byron Chambers, design director for Gensler Sports, “We are passionate about experiential design that takes into account every moment of a student athlete, parent, fan and administrator’s daily path. We strive to reflect the goals and values of each client through our designs.”

Byron Chambers is a Firmwide Leader of both Gensler’s Sports and Convention Centers Practice Areas. With a professional career dedicated to the design of sports, entertainment and assembly buildings, his deep experience spans from NFL stadiums and major league ballparks, to minor league facilities and collegiate venues. His strong understanding of collegiate venues is demonstrated with the design of Blue Bell Park at Texas A&M University, and the Jones Stadium Renovation and Sports Performance Complex, both at Texas Tech University. Byron holds both a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Environmental Design from Texas A&M University. Byron can be reached via email at Byron_chambers@gensler.com.
Geoff Kornegay is a designer in Gensler’s Sports Practice Area with experience ranging from spring training facilities to NFL stadia. With a background in both architecture and real estate development, he is an advocate for cross-disciplinary design processes and believes that truly understanding a client’s business is the vehicle to great design solutions. Get in touch with Geoff via email at geoff_kornegay@Gensler.com.

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