Collegiate Locker Room Design with Recruiting in Mind

By Kathy Russell, ALSC Architects

Today’s colleges and universities are competing for the best talent to join their teams. Facility amenities are one way to gain advantage in securing recruits who are often as young as 18 years old. In a recent article in the Spokesman-Review, Whitworth University Head Football Coach Rod Sandberg summed it up, “It’s about what an 18-year-old thinks and it can affect their decision.

Wow Factor

When a recruit walks into the locker room of their prospective team, the goal is for “minds to be blown”. Deep impressions need to be made that will last long after the trip to visit a campus, and especially stay in their minds as they’re touring other campuses. Inspiring, professional branding is one way to create that wow factor. Accent lighting on logos and trophies draw attention and allow players to imagine the logo on their shirt and their name on the trophy. Large scale graphics create a mythological sense of potentially belonging to something great.

Incorporating inspirational phrases or featuring award winning players or coach’s quotes can be a great feature within a locker room’s branding. Bill Moos, former Athletic Director at Washington State University, has a motto that impacted the design at the Cougar Football Complex and Hall of Fame: “Honor the past, live the present, create the future”

Most colleges and universities have their own unique legacies and traditions, and facilities can be designed to incorporate customs such as fight songs or fun superstitions. Notre Dame is known for players smacking the sign “Play Like a Champion Today” (quote from coach Lou Holtz) as they head to the field. The sign tradition remains firmly a part of their newly designed locker room facilities.

As a part of its fundraising activities, Gonzaga University offers former players that donate a placard or name plate in the locker room. Seeing these names as players get ready for games serves as a reminder of the legacy to which they are now contributing.

Features and Amenities

Locker rooms have started featuring new amenities that are attracting recruits. It’s become an exercise in one-upping each other, as competition between schools occurs on and off the field, often months before game time.

Lockers have become much bigger, allowing space for players to sit inside them even with pads and helmets on (in the case of football). Amenities such as USB charging stations for phones in each locker allows players to keep their phones safe and charging during practice and games. Some facilities even have ventilation in each locker to eliminate odor.

A successfully designed locker room isn’t only about recruiting players, but coaches and staff as well. At Washington State University’s Cougar Football Complex, the locker layout was designed so the coach can stand in one spot and see every athlete. This radial array of lockers provides a highlighted area where the coach is in command. Behind the coach are large digital displays and smart screens for reviewing the latest plays. Basketball locker rooms are often organized in the round, so the team can sit facing each other from their lockers.

WSU Football Operations BuildingBalancing trends with flexibility for changing technology is imperative. USB charging standards are on the cusp of changing, so being able to alter and upgrade the interface must be easy. TV’s and monitors change every few years. At some point, a coaching staff and facilities management team may decide that a certain amount of low-tech amenities work just as well for them.

A Place to Call Home

When building team camaraderie, it’s beneficial for players to have a place to simply hang out. Some players may never have been away from home, so having a relaxed place to spend time with teammates can help ease homesickness. Many locker rooms now have lounge space or a rec room with comfortable chairs, a place to play video games and sound systems to listen to their favorite tunes.

Carpeting can be a challenge, since flooring must stand up to cleats and water from nearby showers. Having carpet makes locker rooms feel homier, however, so it’s important to work with a professional designer versed in the latest products. Even though privacy is imperative in locker rooms, it’s possible to incorporate diffused, natural light to create a great place to relax. Adding these laid-back touches may be the amenity that ultimately ends up helping a recruit make their decision on which program they will sign for.

locker closeup

Kathy Russell is a Project Architect with ALSC Architects and a registered Architect in Washington and Montana, with over 20 years in the industry. She has written articles for SF Gate, and EHow as an architectural expert, and also has her own blog focused on teaching kids about architecture.


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