LARNet; The Cyber Journal of Applied Leisure and Recreation Research  
Student Involvement in Campus Recreational Sports Activities and Gains in Team-Functioning
(March 2002)
Bob Barcelona, Ph.D.

Bob Barcelona, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Recreation Management and Policy
University of New Hampshire
191 Hewitt Hall, 4 Library Way
Durham, NH  03824
Ph: (603) 862-1442  Fax: (603) 862-2722

The field of campus recreation has long espoused the contributions of participation in recreational sport activities to student learning and development gains.  Unfortunately, the evidence to support such claims is often anecdotal or rooted in the general experiences of practitioners in the field.  As such, there is little research demonstrating the impact of student involvement in this area of campus life.  Utilizing data derived from the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) from 1990-1998, this study examined the relationship between undergraduate students’ self-reported gains in their ability to function as a team member and involvement in four areas of student life: (a) art, music and theater; (b) recreational sport programs and facilities; (c) clubs and student organizations; and (d) student union activities.  The results of the study indicated that involvement in recreational sport programs and facilities and clubs and student organizations were significant predictors of gains in team functioning, with involvement in recreational sport programs and facilities being the strongest predictor.  In the presence of the other variables, involvement in both student union activities and art, music and theater did not significantly enhance gains in team functioning.

KEYWORDS: Collegiate recreational sports, student development, higher education outcomes, student involvement


The impact of involvement in out-of-class activities on a student’s collegiate experience has been well-documented (Astin, 1984; Abrahamowicz, 1988; Kuh, 1993; Kuh, 1995). Numerous benefits have been found to be associated with involvement in out-of-class activities, including gains in student learning (Kuh, 1994), enhanced affective development (Pascarella, 1985), ease of social integration (Bryant, et al., 1994; Christie & Dinham, 1991), and increased retention rates (Astin, 1977; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Tinto, 1987).


In the field of campus recreation, professionals have long espoused the positive benefits that students derive from participation in recreational sport activities. It has been suggested that participation in recreational sport programs contributes to various student development gains (Bryant, et al., 1994; Nesbitt, 1993; Todaro, 1993; Wilson, 1994). According to Astin (1984), the effectiveness of educational policy (or practice) is judged by its ability to increase student development. For campus recreation professionals, this means providing evidence to support the belief that participation in recreational sport programs is indeed educationally purposeful. Nesbitt (1993) stated that research, “must increase in order to be able to answer with facts and not beliefs about the effect of recreational sports programs on student participants’ total university experience” (p. 18). To date, one is still hard-pressed to find such research, yet professionals in the field continue to profess that participation in such programs does, in fact, yield educationally-purposeful outcomes.

One of the gains that is often associated with involvement in out-of-class activities is the ability to work effectively as a member of a team. Possessing the ability to work in a team-oriented environment is a strongly sought characteristic by employers of college graduates, and has been noted as a desirable student outcome of college attendance by those both inside and outside higher education (Education Commission of the States, 1995). Given the importance of this particular outcome, it is important for higher education administrators to identify those campus activities which contribute to the enhancement of team-functioning.

Involvement in campus recreation programs such as intramural or club sports requires that students work together to achieve a common goal. It stands to reason that involvement in such activities should help to facilitate student gains in team-functioning. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of recreational sport activities in contributing to gains in team functioning by comparing student involvement in this area to a number of other out-of-class activities normally associated with the organized extracurriculum at colleges and universities. Four areas of student involvement were examined as potential predictors of enhanced gains in team-functioning: (a) art, music and theater; (b) recreational sport programs and facilities; (c) clubs and student organizations; and (d) student union activities.

Review of Literature
The literature in higher education and student affairs presents evidence which suggests that the “amount of student learning and personal development associated with any educational program is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in that program” (Astin, 1984, p. 298). This theory of student involvement is central to understanding the impact that out-of-class experiences have on the student experience. Kuh (1995) addresses this phenomenon using the “college impact approach,” accounting for learning and personal development through the documentation of those outcomes that are produced through interactions between students and their institution’s environments. Pascarella’s (1985) student development model also suggests that development is a function of the quality of effort students invest in educationally-purposeful activities while attending college. <>

This quest for increased student involvement is the fundamental goal of most student affairs professionals. For those working within campus recreation programs, uncovering the gains derived from involvement in recreational sport activities helps provide a better understanding of the developmental impacts that students are deriving through their participation. This becomes one facet from which to gauge the effectiveness of recreational sport programs in meeting the developmental needs of both traditional and non-traditional participants.

Unfortunately there is little empirical research to support claims by campus recreation professionals as to the educational value of student involvement in the programs they administer. What research does exist tends to suffer from methodological and statistical weaknesses, such as single-institution data, small sample sizes and largely descriptive data analysis. There are several studies, however, that do provide some evidence as to the educational value of student involvement in campus recreation programs. 

In his landmark study on the impact of college attendance on student gains (Four Critical Years), Astin (1977) found that involvement in intramural sport programs produced modest gains in student leadership abilities. An expanded study by Astin (1993) found that participating in intramural sport programs had substantial positive effects on physical health, alcohol consumption, and attainment of the bachelor’s degree. The study also revealed that intramural sports participation had significant positive effects on student leadership, satisfaction with student life and satisfaction with the overall college experience. 

In a review of the development and initial pilot results from the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association’s (NIRSA) Quality and Importance of Recreational Services (QIRS) assessment instrument, Bryant, et al. (1994) sought to provide evidence regarding the impacts of campus recreation involvement on student life. Results of the pilot study indicated that students perceived the greatest benefits from participation in campus recreation to be a feeling of physical well-being, stress reduction, respect for others, creating friendships, gaining self confidence, and social integration. The authors also found that campus recreation was an involving activity, with over 95% of respondents replying that they engaged in some form of recreational activity several times each week. 

A descriptive study examining the effects of campus recreation participation on students at a large mid-western university by Haines (2001) found that the availability of recreational facilities and programs was an important factor for prospective students in choosing to attend college as well as an important factor for students to remain in college. His study found that students reported benefits from campus recreation participation in the following areas: (1) feelings of physical well-being; (2) sense of accomplishment; (3) physical fitness; (4) physical strength; (5) stress reduction.


To help better understand how involvement in recreational sport activities impacts educationally-purposeful outcomes, this study sought to compare the contributions of student involvement in a variety of out-of-class activities in predicting team-functioning, an outcome deemed to be an important goal of higher education (Educational Commission of the States, 1995). In an effort to address the need for a large, multi-institutional sample, this study utilized data obtained from the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) project through the cooperation of the Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning at Indiana University, Bloomington. The CSEQ measures student progress and the quality of student experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.

In order to better understand how involvement in out-of-class activities affects student gains while in college, C. Robert Pace (1990) developed the third edition of the College Student-Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ). The CSEQ was developed on Pace’s observation that the outcome of the college experience depends largely on the rate of involvement that students devote in utilizing the facilities, opportunities, and events that are available to them (Davis & Murrell, 1993). The CSEQ measures student involvement in a variety of campus activities. 

This study analyzed data previously collected from 314 colleges and universities as part of the College Student Experiences project during the years 1990-1998. The colleges and universities represented in this sample self-selected use of the CSEQ for institutional assessment purposes in order to measure frequency of student involvement in a number of activities associated with the college experience. The CSEQ also allows institutions to measure the gains that students feel they derive from attending college. Respondents were randomly selected juniors and seniors at participating colleges and universities, and provided self-reports of rates of involvement in various college activities using a four-point scale (1=never, 2=occasionally, 3=often, 4=very often). Respondents also provided estimates of the gains they derived using a similar scale (1=very little, 2=some, 3=quite a bit, 4=very much). 

The CSEQ has been used by hundreds of institutions in assessing student involvement and outcomes of the college experience since 1979. According to Kuh, et al (1999), “the distributions of responses on the Activities and Gains scales are approximately normal and the psychometric properties of the instrument indicate that it is reliable” (p. 6). To test this assertion, Cronbach’s index of internal consistency was performed on 40,000 records from 1983 to 1998. The alpha coefficients ranged from 0.86 to 0.92 for the Quality of Effort scales and 0.89 for the Estimate of Gains scale. According to Ewell and Jones (1996), the CSEQ has high to moderate potential for assessing student behavior associated with college outcomes. 

The independent variables under investigation in this study were derived from the “College Activities” scale of the CSEQ, and were comprised of the totals of the following scales: Quality of Effort in Art, Music and Theater (QEAMT); Quality of Effort in Student Union Activities (QEUNION); Quality of Effort in Athletics and Recreational Facilities (QEATHL); and Quality of Effort in Clubs and Student Organizations (QECLUB). The specific variables under investigation were chosen because they represent a range of organized extracurricular activities available to students on campus. Individual items comprising each scale used, along with the appropriate descriptive statistics, are listed in Tables 1-4:

Table 1

Scale Items - Quality of Effort in Student Union
Scale Items M SD
Had meals, snacks, etc. at the student union 2.50 1.03
Looked at the bulletin board for notices about campus events 2.46 0.93
Met your friends at the student union or student center 2.37 1.08
Sat around in the union or center talking with other students about your classes and other college activities 2.24 1.10
Used the lounge(s) to relax or study by yourself 1.99 1.01
Seen a film or other event at the student union or center 1.71 0.84
Attended a social event in the student union or center 1.84 0.87
Heard a speaker at the student union or center 1.65 0.76
Played games that were available in the student union or center (ping-pong, cards, pool, pinball, etc.) 1.60 0.85
Used the lounge(s) or meeting rooms to meet with a group of students for a discussion 1.74 0.88

Note. Maximum score = 4.

aThe higher the score is, the greater the level of involvement

bn=384 respondents

Table 2
Scale Items - Quality of Effort in Art, Music and Theater  
Scale Items M SD
Talked about art (painting, sculpture, architecture, artists, etc.) with other students at the college 1.89 0.91
Gone to an art gallery or art exhibit on the campus 1.64 0.79
Read or discussed the opinions of art critics 1.30 0.62
Participated in some art activity (painting, pottery, weaving, drawing, etc.) 1.55 0.89
Talked about music (classical, popular, musicians) with other students at the college 2.52 1.03
Attended a concert or other music event at the college 1.99 0.95
Read or discussed the opinions of music critics 1.49 0.82
Participated in some music activity (orchestra, chorus, etc.) 1.39 0.88
Talked about the theater (plays, musicals, dance, etc.) with other students at the college 1.84 0.87
Seen a play, ballet, or other theater performance at the college 1.74 0.88
Read or discussed the opinions of drama critics 1.28 0.63
Participated in or worked on some theatrical production (acted, danced, worked on scenery, etc.) 1.24 0.68

Note. Maximum score = 4.

aThe higher the score is, the greater the level of involvement

bn=381 respondents

Table 3
Scale Items - Quality of Effort in Athletics and Recreation Facilities  
Scale Item M SD
Set goals for your performance in some skill 2.39 1.04
Followed a regular schedule of exercise, or practice in some sport, on campus 2.19 1.10
Used outdoor recreational spaces for casual and informal  individual athletic events 1.87 1.01
Used outdoor recreational spaces for casual and informal  group sports 1.83 1.02
Used facilities in the gym for individual activities (exercise, swimming, etc.) 2.09 1.10
Used facilities in the gym for playing sports that require more than one person 1.85 1.07
Sought some instruction to improve your performance in some athletic activity 1.61 0.94
Played on an intramural team 1.63 1.01
Kept a chart or record of your progress in some skill or athletic activity 1.37 0.74
Was a spectator at college athletic events    

Note. Maximum score = 4.

aThe higher the score is, the greater the level of involvement

bn=380 respondents

Table 4
Scale Items - Quality of Effort in Clubs and Student Organizations  
Scale Items M SD
Looked in the student newspaper for notices about campus events and student organizations 2.53 0.74
Attended a program or event put on by a student group 2.53 0.97
Read or asked about a club, organization, or student government activity. 2.19 0.93
Attended a meeting of a club, organization, or student government group 2.16 1.10
Voted in a student election 1.97 1.03
Discussed policies and issues related to campus activities and student government 1.88 0.92
Worked in some student organization or special project (publications, student government, social event, etc.) 1.83 1.09
Discussed reasons for the success or lack of success of student club meetings, activities or events. 1.87 1.01
Worked on a committee 1.74 1.04
Met with a faculty advisor or administrator to discuss the activities of a student organization 1.47 0.83

Note. Maximum score = 4.

aThe higher the score is, the greater the level of involvement

bn=379 respondents

The dependent variable in this study - Ability to Function as a Team Member - was derived from the Estimate of Gains scale. This scale consists of 23 statements asking students to reflect on how much they have gained in various areas through their involvement in college. Examples of such statements include, “Becoming aware of your own values and ethical standards,” “Understanding yourself, your abilities, interests and personality,” “Developing good health habits and physical fitness,” “Ability to think analytically and logically,” and “Gaining a broad general education about different fields of knowledge” (Pace, 1990).

From a population of 20,000 respondents from 1990 to 1998, a random sample of 400 respondents was chosen using the random selection function on SPSS version 10.1. The number of subjects was chosen to achieve sampling accuracy of +/- 5 percent (with 90 percent certainty) of what would have been expected if all subjects in the population were sampled (Krejcie & Margan, 1970). Descriptive statistics were calculated to determine mean scores, standard deviations and number of respondents for each of the variables under investigation (see Table 5).

Table 5 
Descriptive Statistics
Variable M SD n
GNTEAM 2.63  0.84 388
QEUNION 20.09 6.64 384
QEATHL 16.83 6.81 380
QECLUB 19.73 7.53 379
QEAMT 19.79 6.52 381

Note. Maximum scores vary depending on the number of items.

aThe higher the score is, the greater the level of activity involvement or self-reported gain.

bThe maximum score for GNTEAM = 4.

cThe maximum score for QEUNION = 40.

dThe maximum score for QEAMT = 48.

eThe maximum score for QEATHL = 40.

fThe maximum score for QECLUB = 40.

Bivariate correlation was then used to determine zero-order correlations between the variables. The correlation matrix for the data is presented in Table 6.

Table 6
Correlations Between Quality of Effort Scales and Undergraduate Students’ Self-Reported Gains in Team Functioning
2 3 4 5
1. GNTEAM -- 0.25* 0.29* 0.28* -0.01
2. QEUNION   -- 0.38* 0.54* 0.27*
3. QEATHL     -- 0.32* 0.20*
4. QECLUB       -- 0.40*
5. QEAMT         --

Note. *Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2 tailed)

Statistical analyses of the correlation matrix revealed significant zero-order correlations between the dependent variable and all independent variables under investigation with the exception of QEAMT ( r=-0.01, p=0.81). Closer investigation revealed that all of the independent variables were significantly correlated with one another. Although there was a degree of multicollinearity, the magnitude of the correlation coefficients for each of the independent variables was sufficiently marginal enough to discount any violation of the assumption of uncorrelated independent variables. According to Tabachnik and Fidell (1997), statistical problems created by multicollinearity occur when the correlation coefficient between independent variables are 0.90 or higher. The authors suggest caution in including any two independent variables with correlation coefficients higher than 0.70. Since the largest relationship found was between QECLUB and QEUNION ( r=0.54, p<0.01), it was determined that there was no threat from multicollinearity in this data.

A sequential solution multiple regression analysis was used to determine the predictive ability of the independent variables under investigation on students’ reported gains in their ability to function as a team member (see Table 7-8).

Table 7
Summary of Sequential Solution Multiple Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Undergraduate College Students’ Reported Gains in their Ability to Function as a Team Member
Model R R2 Adjusted R2 SE
1 0.25 0.06 0.06 0.81
2 0.33 0.11 0.12 0.79
3 0.36 0.13 0.12 0.78
4 0.38 0.15 0.14 0.77

Note . The model represents the predictor variable(s) added to the sequential solution multiple regression analysis.

aModel 1 predictors: (Constant), QEUNION

bModel 2 predictors: (Constant), QEUNION, QEATHL

cModel 3 predictors: (Constant), QEUNION, QEATHL, QECLUB

dModel 4 predictors: (Constant), QEUNION, QEATHL, QECLUB, QEAMT

eDependent Variable: GNTEAM

Table 8
Summary of Sequential Solution Multiple Regression Coefficients for Variables Predicting Undergraduate College Students’ Reported Gains in their Ability to Function as a Team Member
Model B SE β t Sig.




















































































When all independent variables were regressed on the dependent variable, a significant regression model resulted ( F=15.33, p<0.001). The multiple correlation coefficient for the model including all four independent variables was 0.38. The total variance explained by the model was 15% ( R2=0.15). The adjusted R-squared for this sample was 0.14. All independent variables were significant in the presence of each other (p<0.01) except QEUNION (t=1.53,  p=0.13). The strongest predictor of team-functioning was QEATHL ( β=0.23) followed by QECLUB ( β=0.21).

Further examination of the multiple regression model revealed several points of interest concerning two of the independent variables. As noted above, the relationship between team-functioning and QEAMT was non-significant ( r=-0.01, p=0.81). In the presence of the other independent variables, QEAMT became a suppressor variable. According to Tabachnik and Fidell (1997), this type of variable suppresses variance that is irrelevant to the prediction of the dependent variable. In this data set, QEAMT was significantly correlated to each independent variable. In the presence of these other variables, QEAMT became a significant negative predictor of team-functioning ( β=-0.16, t=-2.89, p=0.004), even though its presence alone in the multiple regression model (and its zero-order correlation with the dependent variable) was not significant. According to Tabachnik and Fidell (1997), suppressor variables can be detected by examining the relationship between the zero-order correlations and the Beta weight for the independent variables. If the Beta weight is significantly different from zero, a suppressor relationship is present when, “the absolute value of the simple correlation between the independent variable and dependent variable is substantially smaller than the Beta weight for the independent variable” (p. 165). In this case, QEAMT satisfies this condition.

Additional analysis of the correlation matrix and regression model provided insight into the student union activities variable. As noted, in the multiple regression model, QEUNION was not significant in the presence of the other independent variables. When standing alone ( β=0.25, t=4.86, p<0.001) or when added to QEATHL ( β=0.16, t=2.97,  p=0.003), QEUNION was significant. When QECLUB is added to the equation, QEUNION becomes non-significant ( β =0.08, t=1.37,  p=0.17). This is most likely due to the moderate correlation between QECLUB and QEUNION (r=0.54, p<0.001). This can be explained by the fact that at many colleges and universities, student clubs and organizations typically meet in the student union. Thus in this data set, when in the presence of QECLUB, the unique proportion of the variance in team-functioning explained by QEUNION was not significant. 

The results yielded from the data indicate that a significant relationship exists between frequency of involvement in certain out-of-class activities and student’s self-reported gains in team-functioning. Of the variables that represent organized extra-curricular experiences on campus measured by the CSEQ, involvement in athletics and recreational sports was the strongest predictor of the dependent variable, followed by involvement in clubs and student organizations. This is consistent with the theoretical model of student involvement proposed by Astin (1984), as well as by the theoretical model proposed by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), which suggest that the more students are involved in educationally purposeful out-of-class activities, the more they tend to gain from college. This is also consistent with Kuh’s (1999) assertion that students “reap what they sow” regarding student gains. That is, patterns of student outcomes tend to be consistent with how students spend their time. As such, it is expected that those students who most frequently engage in athletics and recreational sports would tend to maximize gains in team-functioning due to the reliance on teamwork involved with participation in many of these activities. 

The fact that involvement in art, music and/or theater activities was not a significant predictor of team-functioning is theoretically obvious. Many of the items that make up the QEAMT variable do not generally represent activities where a large degree of teamwork would be necessary for participation. Most of the items represent solitary or parallel experiences within these areas (see Table 2 ). The same conclusion could be drawn from student union activities, which tend to be solitary or parallel activities with little team-functioning required of participation, unless respondents are using the union primarily for club or student organization purpose.
In this study, frequent participation in recreational sport activities and clubs and student organizations was related to gains in team-functioning. If the ability to function effectively as a member of a team is a desired outcome associated with the collegiate experience, then involvement in such activities can help to facilitate gains in this area. Increased opportunities for team-oriented activities such as intramural sports, special events, adventure recreation, student committees and leadership opportunities, sport clubs, and other similar activities might be used by campus recreational sport professionals to help improve gains in team-functioning.
Opportunities for Future Research
While the results presented were consistent with previous research and generally supported existing theories of student development, this study had several limitations. First, while the multiple regression model presented was significant, the total variance explained by the model was marginal ( R2=0.15). When adjusted for sample size and number of independent variables, the adjusted R-square revealed that 14 percent of the variance was accounted for by the regression model. This is not uncommon for survey research using large, aggregated data bases. Still, there might be other variables that could be included in the model that might better predict team-functioning.

Second, this study focused solely on those out-of-class activities that are normally related to the organized extra-curriculum provided on college and university campuses as measured by student self-reports using the CSEQ. One important variable that was omitted in this study was the scale measuring Quality of Effort in Campus Residence activities. This variable was not included because it would have excluded the large portion of undergraduate students that do not live in on-campus housing (residence halls or Greek houses). There are undoubtedly other extra-curricular experiences that might have been useful variables to include in this study. These unidentified variables might have added to the variance explained by this model. Because this study was limited to only those experiences normally associated with the organized extra-curriculum as measured by the CSEQ, additional variables were not included. 

Third, this study did not examine the effects that academically oriented out-of-class activities such as group work, team projects, or service learning, might have on team-functioning. Additional research examining the effects of these variables in the presence of extra-curricular experiences variables might provide additional insight into the predictive ability of different types of out-of-class activities on team-functioning. It might be found that extra-curricular-related variables, such as involvement in recreational sports or clubs and student organizations, are better predictors of gains in team-functioning than academically oriented variables. More research in this area is needed

Finally, the importance of using national data to assess the gains associated with involvement in various areas of campus life cannot be overstated. Specifically, the lack of a national database of information within the field of campus recreation forces researchers to seek other sources of national data. One of the weaknesses of using such sources to examine research in the area of campus recreation is that researchers are limited to using the variables deemed important by the instrument’s developers. For example, the latest edition of the CSEQ (Version 4) has eliminated many of the athletics and recreational sports items. Thus, it becomes even more imperative for campus recreation professionals to begin to develop their own database of information. While using the CSEQ has proven helpful in gaining insight into the gains associated with student involvement in recreational sport programs, it would be better if data could be examined based on program area (group fitness, sport clubs, intramural sports, instructional sports, outdoor/adventure, aquatics, and informal sports) or other field-specific variables. The CSEQ, while allowing researchers and practitioners to gain an overview of the impact of involvement in recreational sports on student learning gains, does not allow for the specificity that is needed to truly gain an understanding as to what is occurring in such programs on a national basis.


The results of this study indicate that involvement in recreational sports has the potential to yield positive gains in students’ ability to function as a member of a team. Those within the field of campus recreational sports have long espoused the positive gains associated with student involvement in such activities. In order for such claims to have legitimacy, it is necessary to continue to provide evidence showing links between participation in recreational sports and educationally-purposeful outcomes. Further evidence of the impact of recreational sport participation on desired outcomes of college not only helps to justify the existence of such programs on college and university campuses, but also provides professionals with valuable information to enhance programming options. Previous research has demonstrated that campus recreational sport programs are involving activities (Bryant, et al., 1994). Future research on the impacts of such involvement on educational outcomes can help enhance the “seamless web of learning” that link in-class and out-of-class activities (Kuh, 1996). Given the demonstrated relationships between involvement in out-of-class activities and student learning gains, continued research on the impacts of recreational sport involvement on student learning and development is greatly needed.


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