Elite College Training Facilities and The Future

Collegiate training facilities are becoming increasingly important in the competitive NCAA Division I recruiting world.  They are also the intimate spaces where student-athletes go to train, learn, relax and bond.  As the spaces where these athletes spend the majority of their time, and often the first introduction for recruits to a university, the modern training facility must be a balance of powerful design that tells the story of the program and optimal efficiency for everyday use.  

Designing for the Recruit

Over the past three decades, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to design experiences and tell the story of some of the most dominant brands in college football.  From incorporating the latest technology to bold graphics and unique amenities, our designs are a critical piece in helping programs land recruits.

With recruiting as the impetus, I think there are three key trends in elite collegiate training facility design that can be seen across the board:

Trends in Training Facility Design

1. Designing for the first Impression

First impressions are everything. Understanding how a 17 or 18 year old recruit thinks is the essential first step in the ability to design a fully immersive recruiting experience.  A program has 7 seconds to influence a recruit’s first impression of their brand.  At Boise State, the minute a potential student-athlete walks in the door of their new training facility, they understand the Broncos brand.  The recognizable Boise blue uniform displays and a graphically impactful two story foyer establishes a design vision that creates a clear understanding of what the program represents.  This is a great example of how architecture and branding can be seamlessly incorporated into one design concept to create the most powerful first impression.

2.       Cutting-edge Technology

Technology has the ability to transform a building so that it can accommodate various modes, including game day mode, training mode and recruiting mode.   The renovation to Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex incorporated the most forward-looking technology in collegiate athletics.  With frameless LED displays at each locker, integrated televisions in the locker room mirrors, large LED displays in the players’ corridor and an experiential Adidas uniform system that allows players and recruits the opportunity to virtually try on an A&M uniform, the facility has raised the bar.   All of these elements were integrated into the design of the building, making an impact the second a recruit or player enters the space.

3.       Amenities & Comfort

Although training facilities are a place to work, they are also a second home to student-athletes – a place to relax and bond with teammates.  The future recruit has come to expect spa like shower spaces, players’ lounges and spacious locker rooms.  More times than not, players rest and take naps at these facilities between classes, clean up after practices and bond with teammates during down time.  The success of these spaces relies on the ability to synchronize the design of the student athletes, culture of the program, and needs of the coaching staff.   At the University of Arkansas, for example, we integrated a spacious players’ lounge adjacent to the team locker space to allow student athletes to relax and hang out with teammates during downtime. At A&M, the locker room space was designed with the quality of experience of a high-end retail space.  This design approach allowed the locker room to be functional while maintaining a look and feel that is seen in flagship retail spaces.  The permeation of hospitality trends in collegiate training facilities allows recruits and student-athletes a better understanding of the team’s brand.

It’s not about bigger is better in any of the cases above… it’s about telling the brand’s story in a unique way with a multi-faceted execution and hospitality driven experience, as my colleague Scott Radecic blogs about for Isportconnect.  Each of these trends works to reinforce the team’s story and traditions through branding, graphics and experiential technology. In this way, it’s clear that good design is simply good business. The common thread through each successful collegiate training facility is the execution of telling the story of a team’s unique brand identity while creating comfortable spaces for student athletes to train, learn, relax and bond.  As the competition for recruits continues to grow, I expect the collegiate training experience will become some of the most sophisticated training spaces globally.

Read more about Populous’ collegiate football design work and the latest trends here

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