This photo is for illustrative purposes only. By Jenny Fisher.
Sports and athletic activities are at the core of defining ourselves as cultural beings. The health benefits and influence on our social development are enough evidence to include physical activities as one of the pillars of human life. But how is that pillar seen at Trent University? Is the Athletic Centre an inclusive and open space? Are varsity sports an accessible and achievable goal for all students?
There are a plethora of issues that need to be evaluated to answer these questions, namely the structure of student athlete development, the intramural and varsity framework, and also the inclusivity of the Athletic Centre as a space. In terms of numbers, there are 320 varsity athletes and 1300 students participating in formal recreational programs.
Arthur talked to Deborah Bright-Brundle, the Athletics and Recreation Director, and also to Patrick Assinck, the Varsity Sport interim coordinator, in order to find out more information about sports at Trent.
In terms of student athlete development, Bright-Bundle and Assinck recognized that there is no formal strategy to work on students that are already at Trent and could possibly join varsity sports, given the right conditions such as training and motivation. Bright-Brundle agrees, “we do not have a formal model, which we are working on, but we are building partnerships with the college heads, ISW, and the international program to create more awareness about the possibility of being a varsity student.”
Patrick Assinck argued that they are working on how to bring more people here, and how can we engage more potentially varsity athletes. He contemplates the possibility of engaging more people through recreational activities and bridging the gap between recreational and varsity athletes.
In the short term, the athletic’s director is focusing on an outreach campaign to spread knowledge about the varsity program. They are considering sending out a survey to evaluate why students get involved and the types of sports that could be included both at the varsity and recreational level.
Having a formalized strategy to identify those students that could be part of recreational or varsity sports is of paramount importance in order to increase the level of inclusivity of sport at Trent. Many students have the skill set to become athletes, but are not seen as taking the chance. But, why?
It is true that motivation and a high level of commitment is needed to be part of a varsity team. However, in the context of Trent, students are attracted to the university to a high variety of reasons, and Trent does not figure as a key player in providing full athlete scholarships.
As a result, it could be a beneficial structure to develop those student athletes that are already at Trent in order to give a boost to the varsity teams.
This is especially relevant in the context of the gap between intramural and varsity sports. There are plenty of students at the intramural level that would fit into a varsity program, given the right conditions.
There have been many instances, in which students have been rejected from varsity sports due to the level of fitness. Due to confidentiality issues, the names of those students will not be revealed. However, one notes that in plenty of cases, coaches have rejected very promising candidates in the name of fitness.
Fitness is a highly necessary requirement of any varsity team, however it would be perhaps more inclusive and beneficial for varsity sports to include those students that show motivation and determination in participating in try outs in order to develop their fitness.
An option would be to have reserve teams that practice regularly and formally that can be included on the team if the coaches deem necessary, or if there are injuries in the squads.
The role of coaches is really important and their performance seems to differ. When asked about the role of the coaches, Bright-Brundle expressed that there is no formal strategy for the evaluation of coaches, but they are working on “a coach-developing model because we want to ensure that there is consistency of evaluation and programming.”
Regardless, there seems to be a high reliance on coaches’ judgment since they are seen as the ‘experts’ in sports, but who holds them accountable? Coaches also are given a lot of responsibility in recruiting, and are well connected with local leagues. The argument is that a solid base team is necessary to ensure success. However, it may be beneficial to establish formal evaluation systems to make sure that all resources are used, and those students that could be varsity athletes are given the right opportunities.
It terms of opportunities, it is often the case that varsity sport is seen as huge commitment, which discourages students that have other obligations. Plenty of students at Trent would love to be in a varsity sport without sacrificing their grades, but would also like being able to participate in campus activities and student groups.
This becomes an issue of priorities and trade-offs. But it is also an issue of our institutional priority as a whole. Is our purpose to select the best to compete, or to do so and develop potential athletes at the same time? What is the purpose of the Athletic Centre and varsity sports? Is winning the ultimate objective of varsity teams?
Even though winning is very important, other aspects are vital, such as developing leadership and work ethic skills. Patrick Assinck states that “winning is really important to us, but pulling back to our athlete development model we want to make sure that is not just about winning, that we are providing all the athletes with an experience where they can gain work ethic and leadership skills that come with competing in sport.”
Deborah Bright-Brundle agrees that athletes are “first and foremost students, and that the experience of sport also translates into leaders off the field. It is expected that the drive and determination for success on the field would translate to their academic life, personal life and work life as well.”
Are students from different backgrounds benefiting from the enormous advantages and skills that would come with varsity sports? Of the 320 varsity athletes, 2-3% are international students. That means that approx. 10 international students are varsity athletes.
Some international students were consulted but their identity will remain anonymous. Some feel that the varsity program should include more international students in the sporting aspect since the teams would benefit from the diversity.
Also, some of the students expressed that there are some stereotypes regarding international students as not trying hard enough or not assigning the proper priority to varsity sport. There is a concept that in order to be a varsity athlete, you can only do the sport and academics and not much else in terms of commitments.
As previously mentioned, a high level of commitment is necessary to become an athlete, however, an inclusive varsity sport would include those students that show promise and develop them so they can meet the standards. This could be done by providing a bridge between intramural and varsity where students could develop the fitness and motivation. This would ensure more inclusivity.
Another international student paid attention to the fact that travelling commitments often inhibit their ability to go for trials, as they occur prior to the school semester commencing, in the case of soccer for instance.
Furthermore, the student expressed that there seems to be a divide between the intermural and varsity departments. Allowing for greater interaction and possible recruitment for those students that come late or may have less knowledge about the varsity teams would narrow this bridge. It would also not only allow for potentially stronger teams, but would also foster social interaction and comradity and increased support for varsity teams.
What about financial inclusivity? When asked about the monetary average amount that a student would need in order to be a varsity athlete, a straight answer was hard to find. Bright-Brundle expressed that there are different season durations (including the possibility of playoffs), and travel requirements, which she argued makes it difficult to come with a number. She also stated that there is a student varsity fee that students pay standard across all universities in Canada.
Finally, it is important to look at the inclusivity of the Athletics Centre as a space. We have to take into account that the facilities are used not only by varsity, intramural and recreational groups, but also by community members and students at large. How does the athletic program mediate the tension between these groups?
Bright-Brundle argued that it is an “ongoing juggling and balancing act.” Varsity sport has strict demands with regard to facilities. She expresses that “when varsity season starts, we obviously have commitments when hosting a tournament or event, but we know far in advance, so we can book them early on and hopefully not run into conflict.”
However, there have been a couple of instances where there has been conflict between student groups, intramural sports and varsity sports. For instance, intramural competitive soccer books the field every Monday night to run the intramural league. However, on a Monday the women’s rugby varsity team showed up and took half the field. According to the Athletics Centre, there was a booking error, so both groups were believed to have booked the facilities. Bright-Brundle and Assinck attribute this type of error as “human error”. In fact, they argue that there is a booking system, and that there is no formalized way in which a group can override a booking.
This specific instance is no more than an example that the athletic facilities at Trent are spaces of contestation. There is a growing demand for the field, the gym and the indoor facilities, which is putting stress on the system. Furthermore, the expansion of the athletic centre as a community centre is also furthering the situation.
Other less specific instances revolve around students and groups attempting to book facilities during the week, but encountering that most of the time slots are assigned to varsity practices. Surely, varsity sports need the facilities to train and remain competitive, but this comes at the cost of inclusivity of the athletic spaces at Trent.
There seems to be a recurring theme at Trent, under the financial constrains caused by the broader neoliberal restructuring, in which the university is trying to squeeze as much as possible without further investments in infrastructure or even faculty, in certain areas. The Athletics Centre is run almost as an independent business.
When talking about the student athlete development model, Bright-Brundle agreed that as “with any other business if you don’t have customer feedback, we can sit here and develop a model, but it may not be as effective.” Is this ideal? Should the Athletic Centre be run as a business? One may even wonder if universities as a whole are not run as businesses.
It is surely beneficial for our community engagement that the Athletic Centre is open to all members of the community, however, there is a growing tension between the current infrastructural capacity and the ability to ensure that students are the priority.
At the end of the day it is all about priorities: do we want to have an Athletic Centre and a varsity program that is inclusive and develops athletes, or a business like entity that is only accessible to a selected few?