Hear more about this subject and other curling topics from Jonathan Havercroft on Rocks Across the Pond: A Curling Podcast available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn.
With the post-Olympic curling boom in full swing, curling clubs are now facing a new challenge: how to incorporate new curlers into their clubs so that they stick around. After the Olympics it is easy to get new people to come to learn to curl sessions and sign up for leagues. But curling booms can go bust very quickly if the club does not have plans in place to integrate new curlers into the club.
When I was a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Curling Club we experienced a boom bust cycle. In 2006 over 400 people showed up to a learn to curl session right after the Olympics. The club went from 32 members to 58 members in the 2006/2007 season but a year and a half later membership was back down to 32. All the hard work of the previous Olympic cycle recruitment drive had no long term effect on club membership.
What I learned from that mistake is that if you want people to become long term members of your club, you need to work hard at integrating them into your club. Curling can’t just be the fun sports league they do once a week for a few months a year. It has to become a community that they want to be a part of, and they have to make new friends, and feel like they are contributing to that community.
So here are a few tips on how to help people transition from beginner curler to club member.
1. Don’t let cliques form in your club: This is going to vary depending on your club size and format. But for newer arena clubs where the membership is in the 30- to 100-member range, new curlers will have a harder time integrating into the club if there are a few cliques. The best way to stop this from happening is to mix teams. New members should play with different people and make new friends. The competition manager can either form new balanced teams each round, or use a draft system to form teams for each league.
While some new members may want to play only with their friends, the problem with this approach is if the team’s organizer drops out, the club may end up losing all four members rather than just one. The best way to make friends throughout the club is to get people playing with as many different members as possible.
2. Build broom stacking into the club culture: Broom stacking (i.e. having a beverage with your opponent after the game) is an important tradition in curling. It also serves an important function in building curling club culture, as it is a natural icebreaker.
You sit down after the match and chat about the game with your opponents. This is how you get to get to know people and make new friends. That in turn makes a person more likely to be a member of a club. At arena clubs this can be a problem if you do not have a bar at the ice rink.
At Oklahoma Curling Club we faced this problem. We solved it in true Oklahoma football tradition by tailgating. Members would bring their grills to the rink and we would have burgers and beers in the parking lot before and after the game. We also had a different team responsible for bringing snacks each week and we would celebrate events like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and the club’s birthday with cakes and themed league nights. For Halloween, people would dress in costume and we’d have a prize for the best one. The key is to make the club about more than curling and to make the curling fun.
3. Draw on your new member’s talents: Curling clubs are always facing problems, but even the smallest of clubs will have members with the talents to fix those problems. When we were starting Oklahoma Curling Club, we needed a website, scoreboards, help publicizing the club, help scheduling and running the leagues.
If you ask around your club membership you would be amazed at how many people have exactly the skills you need to fix your problems. Having members help out with the club and recognizing their contribution has an amazing effect on the club. When someone helps the club, it increases their sense of ownership of the club. That in turn increases the likelihood that they will stick around.
Every little problem a member solves makes the club a little bit better, which means other members are more likely to stick around. In a club there are always a few workhorses that are going to do the majority of the volunteer work to sustain the club. But it is important for those club leaders to always be looking for ways to draw on the talent of as many of their members as possible. It helps to retain members and leads to the club flourishing more in the long term.