Real legacy must be created by clubs, leisure centres and communities themselves
Before and after the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics there was a lot of talk about legacy, particularly in terms of getting more people to participate in sport.
Prior to the London 2012 the airwaves were full of politicians and senior sports administrators who were claiming that the ‘whole nation would be inspired by watching the Games and would be taking up sport’. So our little Johns and Janets would be watching the Olympics, find their local clubs and centres on Facebook, then run down to there, be met with open arms regardless of skills and application, but alas…the rhetoric was rarely matched by action and, as a result there were few, if any concrete initiatives designed to welcome and retain those potential new members.
And for the Paralympics…while there is no doubt that these Games raised the profile of disability sport but without dampening the enthusiasm we must point out that 89% of sports clubs have noticed no change in the number of disabled people joining their clubs since the Paralympics.
A recent survey from the English Federation of Disability Sport also highlights that 6 in 10 people do have a role model of some kind, with the most common role model is a family member, who, very interestingly does not have to do sport. Disabled people find their role models through experience, lifestyle, hobbies and lifestyle goals.
There seems to be little evidence that testimonials from elite sports people on how great sport is will have any impact on inactive people, disabled or non-disabled, and get them off their backsides – but still we keep ploughing that same old furrow!
After the Games much of the comments about legacy have been about that ‘somebody’ should do something, that more funding was needed and ‘we needed a strategy’ (without mentioning what the strategy should contain).
Grow the numbers by being welcoming!
Back in 2003, the Sunday morning after Jonny Wilkinson’s drop kick won the rugby union world cup for England I was standing in the club house at Bedford Athletic RUFC where I was a committee member.
The place was buzzing with excitement after the world cup win as the minis and juniors were arriving for their training sessions or matches. In walked a boy with his dad, spotted one of the junior coaches who was pumping up rugby balls and went over to him: “My son would like to join the club, how do we do that?”, asked the dad. “How old is he?” asked the coach. “He’s 10,” was the answer. “I’m the coach for the under 14s and the under 11s are away, so I suggest you go onto our website.”
Having overheard the conversation I walked over, introduced myself and made sure the boy and his dad were made to feel really welcome. I certainly saw boy the in the club over the next three years.
However it was great to see the Rugby Football League, in connection with the recent Rugby League World Cup organsing a series of Welcoming Club workshops for their community clubs and commissioning support material and resources to inspire the clubs. Let me declare an interest here: SMN was commissioned by the RFL to produce a guide to Growing Your Club and a guide to Running a Successful Open Day and developed and delivered the workshops. The feedback from the clubs was ‘overwhelmingly positive’.
The Rugby Football Union has announced a major programme to develop a participation legacy from the World Cup in 2015, which is also great.
In connection with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games there are a number of Legacy initiatives where there, perhaps, could be stronger focus on participation. SMN are currently delivering Welcoming Clubs and Hubs workshops across Scotland.
A while ago a leading archer called more for more TV coverage of the sport because kids would then join the archery clubs. (There have been several aborted attempts to set up TV channels for ‘minority’ sports. There simply isn’t the demand). Yes, we would all like some better facilities and equipment, some guidance and support, ready-made campaigns and prime-time TV coverage watched by millions, but that is not going to happen. So let’s deal with reality:
Research and anecdotal evidence indicate that people feel uncertain on how to dress, behave and what reaction, if any, they will get when they walk in through the door. There are too few activity providers where the whole culture is focused towards creating an atmosphere where new people are welcomed. Interestingly, such places can often be very welcoming when you have first been introduced.
We are becoming ‘demanding customers’ therefore to increase sports participation we simply must make clubs, leisure centres and activity providers more welcoming places which provide really great experiences.
Create your own legacy…you are that ‘somebody’ who can make that change
Whatever your involvement with community sport start somewhere to get more people to your club or centre and to enjoy your sport. Set up a Community Games or link up with the existing one. Go out into your community and forge relationships. Make sure that you are a really welcoming place (do your coaches smile and speak to everybody?). Send birthday cards to all members (yes, I am serious). Put your 16-year olds in charge of your Facebook, YouTube and other social media. Do demonstrations and ‘have-a-gos’ in your local shopping centre. Run a Really Welcoming Open Day…all this is simple stuff and it’s free!
Keep going. Initially some people within your club or team may be ridiculing or even back-stabbing you over the fire in your belly. Just keep going, increasingly people will support you and you’ll gain momentum and reach tipping point and you start seeing results. Playing safe is not going to grow the numbers and create that legacy.
Workshop and support from SMN
To demonstrate the dedication to the ‘grow the numbers legacy’ cause Sports Marketing Network have developed a workshop and support programme called “Welcoming Clubs’. As part of that the programme we work with clubs and sports facilities on how they best can organise ‘Really Welcoming’ Open Days. We have indeed seen the difference a bit of creativity and planning can make to the outcomes from a successful open day
So whatever your role in sport, please do not wait until ‘somebody’ does something. You are that somebody – create your own legacy and get more people into your sport and your club. Start with being really welcoming; yes I know you already are, but try a tiny bit harder, with a smile!
If we want to see a real increase in the number of people coming to our community sports clubs, whether as players or volunteers, they have to become more welcoming and more visible and play a much stronger role in their local communities. That change has to come from the bottom. The people at the top can inspire and support, but the clubs and centres, their management, committees and members have to develop a culture which embraces change, encourages innovation, provides great experiences and treats everybody who comes to their club as a welcome guest.
So here are some possible steps you should take:
- Make sure your toilets (especially the ladies) are clean and look nice (put some potpourri out there). 50% of the population is female! If you want bring to back lapsed male players then the attitude towards your club towards their female partners is very important indeed, and the cleanliness and general state of your facility plays a very important part.
- Make sure your coaches understand that the players are actually customers who want to enjoy a great experience and not be shouted at (fitness and fun are key reasons why young people play sport).
- If you see somebody new at your club or facility, walk over, shake their hand, smile and say ‘welcome’. (Notice the story from The Ath above). They will really appreciate it and your fellow club members may even copy you, which would be great.
- Engage with your local schools, colleges, sports academies, housing associations, health boards, community groups etc. and develop shared values where you work together to help strengthen each other (remember your players and volunteers and also your income is going to come from your community, so don’t ignore it). If you have an attitude that you are ‘just a rugby club’ then you will only attract people interested in rugby (regardless of code), but if you are a real community hub then you will see your club attracting people from all walks of life.
In 2004 Tynemouth Cricket Club was one of those community clubs run by a few, overstretched, volunteers, playing at an old deteriorating facility. A couple of people at the club decided to move the club forward. They got an increasing number of parents to volunteer, in specific roles, and slowly, but surely, the club moved forward. Volunteering was made fun and rewarding! It got funding to deliver cricket coaching in local schools and the club’s community reach expanded, bit by bit. It is now much more than ‘just a cricket club’ working with a wide range of community partners and the number of volunteers and member has exploded.
And membership numbers (playing members) went from 96 to 238! As Russell Perry, Chair of the club said: “Working in the community has brought us extra members, extra volunteers and extra income not only from increased subscriptions but from sponsorship, grants and donations. This in no small part the result of a significant increase in our profile and the goodwill generated from that work.”
Whether you have your own facility or not you must run sporting and community events to raise your profile and generate income. Ideas? Try Lymm RFC’s panto, York Acorn ARLFC’s bonfire night, Scarborough RFC’s vet festival, Ashford RFC’s Vet and Beer Festival, Chorley Panthers ARLFC’s Masked Ball, Melrose’s Sevens tournament. The list goes on…
Yes, the governing bodies should run initiatives to grow the profile of sport, but it’s down to the people in our many community sports providers to innovate, change and make that real difference for their own communities and then see their club grow.
5. Run an Open Day at your club or facility (you are welcome to use SMN’s Open Day guide (you can also give us a call :-))
Good luck with creating your own participation legacy in 2014. It can be done!