Planning the Recruit’s Path – College Training Facility Design

August 28, 2015

As college programs have seen a dramatic increase in revenues from broadcast deals and donor giving is on the rise thanks to a healthy economy, the arms race in collegiate athletics is alive and well. Universities across the country want to lure the best student athletes to their campuses to boost their programs’ profile and ultimately, put a winning product on the field.  Training facilities have become the place to wow recruits and make an unforgettable first impression.

Enter: the recruiting path. This is an experiential journey – a map outlining how to walk recruits through a campus and facilities, showing them aspects of your program and brand and enticing them to commit.

At Populous, the recruiting path is always on our minds as we design stadiums, arenas and training facilities in collegiate conferences across the country. It begins once a recruit lands at the airport or arrives by vehicle on campus. From the first steps on campus, to the journey to the athletic facilities, to the actual experience inside.

By excelling in first impressions, impact places and preparation spaces, these buildings can tell the story of a program, relive great moments and famous alumni as well as show the commitment of the school to future success. To create a great first impression, there must be intentional planning.  From the latest technology to inspirational graphics and technology, these facilities become important assets and tools for coaches as they bring recruits and their parents for visits, and it doesn’t happen without a strategic approach. A training facility should convey who you are, what you represent, and what you strive to achieve.

But what does that entail? Here are the features that shape the recruiting path:


  1. Wow Factor: It is essential to create an undeniable ‘wow factor’ with your first impression. Grand entry features and hall of fame within a facility’s lobby have become key to establish that impressionable moment.  At Texas A&M’s Bright Football Complex, the lobby space incorporates interactive elements, technology and memorabilia to catch the recruit’s eye and engage them with the brand from the moment they enter the facility.


  1. Locker Room: One of the most essential spaces in the training facility – the home to the team, coaches and staff. The crown jewel of the Bright Football Complex at Texas A&M was the locker room – a space that creates a high-impact experience including custom solid surface lockers, charging stations in each locker, helmet displays, a custom perforated metal ceiling, a barbershop and a large players’ lounge. This space is an essential stop on the recruiting path.

University of Colorado

  1. Player Lounge: At University of Colorado, the locker room has a similar impact and leads to another space – the players’ lounge. Once inside, the ceiling glows from above with the team’s logo and opens into the player’s lounge equipped with large theatre style seats with team logos stitched into the seats. There are 8 large screen monitors that can be used for watching game film, relaxing and catching other games or sporting events. These spaces are common now, offering student athletes a spot to decompress, bond and access to items like Gatorade Hydration Stations, pool tables, televisions and spots to lounge.

University of Colorado

  1. Strength and Conditioning: Recruits want to see space where they can work hard and play hard. At the University of Colorado, the Indoor Practice Facility is located immediately adjacent to the weight room.  A 300-meter indoor competition track surrounds the turf field and can be accessed through glass overhead garage doors that can open up the weight room and the indoor practice facility into one large contiguous space.  Regardless of the university, strength and conditioning space must be easily accessible and state of the art to wow the modern recruit.


  1. Treatment & Recovery: Hydrotherapy is also critical to the treatment and recovery of student-athletes. At the University of Utah, the hydrotherapy pools include a hot and cold plunge pool and an underwater treadmill to speed up recovery.  The hydrotherapy area is highlighted behind a glass wall and even has the Utes logo projected from above into the water below.  Similarly at Texas A&M Bright Football Complex, the team also has hot and cool recovery pools where the team can relax and their bodies can recover after a tough workout on a hot day.


  1. Team Meeting Rooms: The team meeting rooms have also become focal points of the recruiting path.  These spaces incorporate consistent messaging and branding and serve an important function as the meeting place for a recruit’s new family of student-athletes and coaches.  At Kansas State, the integration of the team’s culture – focused on family – is paramount. We incorporate meeting rooms into the majority of our training facilities as they are crucial for coaches and players day-to-day.


  1. Academic Centers: Student-athletes and their parents are also very interested in the academic centers and places for quiet study.  Today’s academic center has complete access to training spaces and a mix of formal study, tutor space and lounge space.


  1. Technology: State-of-the-art technology is extremely persuasive to the 17-18 year old recruit, and it also is functional. It makes operations more seamless and successful, allows staff to communicate quickly with student-athletes and creates a level of transformation within our buildings. The dual screen LED monitors on each locker at A&M allow them to quickly transition modes – from recruiting to practice to game day. It also aids in a more seamless and successful operations and communications for the team and coaching staff on a daily basis.


  1. Player Tunnel: (for football) Walking recruits through a player tunnel send a clear message about what it would be like to play for their team. These player tunnels not only create a unique tradition to each university, they create an important connection from the training facility to the stadium. At CU, the Thunderchute is directly outside of the locker room leading the players to Folsom Field.  This is the area where the team will congregate and energize each other before charging onto the field behind Ralphie the Buffalo in one of the best pre-game traditions in America. Likewise at K-State, the players will gather and run onto the field through a purple-illuminated tunnel from the training facility before home games.

University of Colorado

  1. Branding: Players may end on the field after walking through a powerful players’ tunnel, but the branding throughout the entire facility adds depth and tells a story about the University’s brand, identity and traditions. We think about nodes and key points in the path a recruit takes to connect them with a school’s brand and core messaging. At A&M, we used bold graphic treatments to communicate the power of the program.  At the University of Colorado, we lined the recruiting path integrating branding with historic and new imagery, value statements and more.

While branding helps tie the entire story of a place together into one cohesive experience, ultimately, it’s how the design as a whole is used to communicate tradition, culture, success and opportunities to recruits that shapes the decisions they make. Just check out the Kansas City Star’s recent piece on Vanier Football Complex at K-State: Good design can translate into recruiting top talent. And that is good for everyone.


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