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Lunchtime Basketball Builds Connections for Colleagues

Eating lunch at a workspace or enjoying lunch with coworkers at a conference table might be common occurrences in professional settings. But playing basketball? Not so common. But that has changed at the University of Tennessee where a new staff wellness and fitness initiative is building connections and strengthening bodies on Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 1 p.m.

Earlier this year, UT’s Division of Student Life launched a lunchtime sports program where staff with RecSports memberships could participate in pickup games over their lunch hour. Staff could participate in basketball, racquetball, or pickleball. During the pilot stage, the program was only available to division staff but has since been expanded to include other campus entities. Ultimately, anyone with an active RecSports membership can participate, meet colleagues, and fit regular exercise into busy lives and demanding careers…all during their lunch break.

David Ndiaye is the director of Student Disability Services and has played basketball competitively since the age of seven. He notes that playing basketball on campus is more manageable than consistently planning a workout while juggling the daily demands of life.

“Along with other initiatives like Wellness Wednesdays, the lunchtime programming at RecSports really demonstrates the division’s commitment to promoting the health and wellness of all staff,” says Ndiaye. “Participating in lunchtime basketball has allowed me to work on my health by remaining active throughout the week while enjoying the thrills of competition.”

“As an introverted person, large networking events are a bit of a struggle, but lunchtime basketball has provided space for me to network with colleagues in the division and at UT as a whole,” says Thomas Boleyn, program director for Off-Campus Student Life. “Being in a space where the focus is on playing basketball has helped ease me into the space and have conversations with everyone who is playing.”

Boleyn also notes the reduction of emails with colleagues as he takes advantage of court time to ask quick questions about upcoming projects.

Kyle McAlear, assistant director of the Student Union, found that lunchtime basketball helped him re-establish an exercise routine after his family expanded, and he now arranges his schedule so he can play at least once
a week.

“My health and overall well-being is the biggest personal benefit, as with lunchtime basketball there’s an unspoken accountability with colleagues that helps maintain consistency,” says McAlear. “But the divisional relationships I’ve developed have also been beneficial when collaborating with colleagues and other departments. It’s a great way for new staff to meet each other.”

Boleyn, McAlear, and Ndiaye each noted that being accountable to their teammates helped them attend consistently, and having a routine made it easy to reserve the time on their calendars for the mental and physical break.

Lunchtime programming at RecSports is continuing through the 2023–2024 year, and while individual staff are reaping the professional and personal benefits, RecSports gets the assist for an innovative daytime option to promote health and well-being on campus.