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Stepping Up the Locker Room Game

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Lately, there’s been a lot of locker-room talk in our industry. I don’t mean we’re saying inappropriate things; I mean, literally, we’re talking about locker rooms. It seems that facilities everywhere have begun to rethink the locker room and its centrality to the health, success, mindset, and even the reputation of a sports team. The old model — cold, ugly rooms; small, grey, smelly metal lockers; hard, narrow benches — is going the way of the all-leather soccer ball. The new model — mini barber shops, self-ventilating wooden lockers, football-shaped rooms — is cropping up at colleges and in pro-league facilities everywhere. It has evolved along with the evolving nature of college and professional sports, as competition becomes more intense than ever before, the amount of practice time increases, greater amounts of money and business investments are at stake, and game plans depend on technology more than ever before.

The Hatfield-Dowlin Complex at the University of Oregon is one example of a state-of-the-art locker room that has fans, parents, professional sports leagues, facilities directors — and, of course, players themselves — gawking. The complex has its own barber shop. Lockers are engineered to block odors, and they feature images of football players, with the actual names of the teams’ players’ names appearing on the jerseys in the images. Hidden doors create the sense that the locker room does not contain any lockers at all, and benches lined up against the wall under the lockers allow players to face each other during team talks.

At Oregon’s complex and in other facilities, technology plays a big role. Smart TV screens allow coaches to diagram directly on a screen or to pull up digital video footage of action that occurred in practice or a game. Almost all new locker rooms are hooked up with more power outlets than ever before to allow players and coaches to recharge their devices. Almost all are built to be wi-fi ready. Scott Radecic, senior principal at Populous, an architectural design firm with vast experience in sports facility strategic planning, told Athletic Business magazine, “At one point in time, some architects tried to design a locker space for a specific device — for an iPad, for an iPhone, for a Samsung. Well, these devices change so often that really the most important thing to do is provide a place to store the device, whatever it is, but make sure there’s power.”

And that’s what teams are doing. But technology is not the only thing advancing — changes in configuration and size are also at play. Both individual lockers and entire locker rooms are expanding. “When you say, ‘I want a minimum locker width of 42 inches and then I want to put every locker on the perimeter’… all of a sudden this becomes an extremely large room,” Radecic told Athletic Business. The new locker room in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium measures about 160 feet in length, larger than any other locker room Radecic has ever been in. Meanwhile, space layouts are becoming both more creative and more functional. That giant locker room in Minnesota’s facility is football-shaped; the idea is to create a huge, welcoming space in the dead of winter.

Underlining all of these changes is an awareness of the need to make an impression. At both college and pro facilities, locker rooms have become more public than ever before. People tour facilities and get a glimpse of private spaces. Before and after games, television cameras follow players around locker rooms. And players and teams themselves post images of their facilities’ inner spaces all over social media. These realities are creating a drive for a clean presentation; for extras, such as colour-varying LED lights embedded in lockers or flat screens installed in each individual locker; for elaborate team logo displays. The result is an unprecedented kind of mood-setting in the locker room environment — and the hope is partly that that mood-setting will result in higher team morale and, ultimately, better playing.

Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen, but certainly it’s true that players are finding themselves in greater comfort in their inner sanctums than ever has been the case before. Maybe it’s time for your facility to get its own locker room boost?