Tackling the sport's ultimate
challenge at the club level: recruitment
At this time of year, many clubs in New Zealand are in the throes of
recruiting new members. Not that membership is in a crisis state, but
growth is certainly required to maintain and indeed improve Croquet's
status and image.
New Zealand currently has just on 4000 Croquet players spread over 140
clubs. There are about 500 lawns for these players, which works
out to approximately 8 players per lawn. This is obviously a very low
figure, and there is ample room to increase it. One figure bandied
about suggests that 22 players per lawn is a good number. I think
this may have originated from the local district Councils who base it
on 2 cricket teams playing each other on a sports ground. This figure
is still possibly a little low. (I understand that there is a one-lawn
club in America with a membership of 90!) With an organized committee,
it should be reasonably possible to accommodate perhaps 50 players per
This means that with 500 lawns, NZ should be targeting a total
of 25,000 members. Of course with that many members more clubs and
more lawns would undoubtedly materialize and the whole sport could
spiral to the dizzy heights of the majors.
Why does Croquet need more players? In New Zealand, many clubs are
owned and maintained by their local Council. On the one hand this is
an excellent state of affairs as all the maintenance, lawn cutting,
top-dressing, etc, is carried out by the Council leaving club members
to get on with what they enjoy - playing Croquet. However, there is a
downside and that is that Councils are now very much into the "user
pays" philosophy. In previous years, clubs used to pay Councils a
pittance for the work that was carried out. This is now rapidly
changing, and the new rates are based on the number of players using
the facility. Ironically, the more players that can be crammed into
the same playing space, the lower the Council's charges become.
Croquet, with their low membership, can therefore expect to pay heaps.
NEW MEMBERS MEAN MORE FUNDING, BETTER FACILITIES, FINER PLAYERS
The problems of membership growth and renewal are similar in most of the
developed croquet-playing countries. The sport is complex, learning it takes
time and practice, and even at multi-lawn clubs, court space is often
dominated by veteran players, and newcomers feel like "second class
citizens." But now there's a more compelling reason than ever for local
clubs to get serious about membership growth: financial pressures from the
municipal governments who pay the bills for croquet and want to see the lawns
filled with the local citizenry.
Another, less mercenary reason for attracting more members is the
influx of new blood. With an unchanging membership, play and
attitudes may become stagnant. An influx of new players changes all
that, and the club is likely to be healthier for it. In addition, more
players will lead to increased funding, better facilities and
ultimately better players and teams.
The biggest question, of course, is the age-old one of how to attract
new players. In my own association (Wellington), clubs are having
great success in recruitment using a number of different methods.
There is the schools program which I mentioned in the "New Zealand Report
#1". This has not yet produced a large number of new recruits, but it is
hoped that this will have a cumulative effect in future years.
DISPLAY ADVERTISEMENTS AND SOCIAL EVENTS DRAW CROWDS
Petone Central Croquet club hold an annual Business
House Croquet competition where teams of four are invited from local
companies and organizations to compete against each other playing Golf
Croquet. The competition takes place after work and, with the beer
and sandwiches provided, participants really seem to enjoy themselves
in a relaxed yet competitive atmosphere. Waimarie Croquet club has
recently placed adverts in the local press both for their beginners
classes and for social croquet sessions where the emphasis is on
participation for all. This year the advertisements were not small,
unexciting scraps hidden at the bottom of a column but large and
eye-catching. The result was exciting: 23 beginners turned up on the
first day and almost as many for the social Croquet sessions.
Wellington Croquet Club has been holding social Croquet sessions on
Friday evenings for two years. Anyone is welcome and the session is
popular. A glass of wine or a beer leads to a relaxed atmosphere and
people can play or not, as they like. Usually one-ball Croquet is
played (with an assortment of different rules!) and there are plenty
of established players around to help beginners. Last year, the whole
of the "Sport Wellington" team (which administers sport in the
Wellington region) turned up one Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed
themselves. The mayor of Wellington is due to put in an appearance
later this season.
BEGINNERS NEED TIME AND ATTENTION FROM VETERAN PLAYERS
Almost as difficult a problem as attracting people through the gate is
how to keep them coming and turn them into club members. For this,
the attitude of existing club members has to be right. Beginners must
be treated gently and with patience. They require a lot of time and
attention from all the current members. Unfortunately, some members
seem to want all the lawn space for themselves and resent any influx
of new blood. These are difficult people to deal with but there are
ways! Short of impaling them with the peg and stuffing them through
rover, giving these people a specific job to do towards recruitment
often does the trick. Beginners competitions, social functions and
coaching are all important to get prospective members to stay put.
ONE-BALLING VERSUS GOLF CROQUET
Finally, what sort of croquet should beginners be playing? Clearly,
starting them off with the regular game is bewildering and indeed
physically and mentally impossible for most beginners. They have to
be shown the skills first, but this can be boring and lead to their
disillusionment. Many clubs play Golf Croquet first. Personally, I
don't really believe in this, as they are not getting the true picture
of what Croquet is all about: They are not even playing Croquet, as
there are no Croquet shots played in Golf Croquet. Having said that,
any alternative game which is easy to learn and play is better than
nothing as it relieves the drudgery that beginners often encounter
when being coached.
Much better, however, is 1-ball Croquet, where
each side has one ball each but otherwise plays standard Croquet with
roquets, croquets and continuation shots. All the aspects of
regular Croquet are then covered, while the game remains simple enough
to be played by almost any beginner after a minimum of prior
Merry Christmas, everyone, from Down Under! I'll be practicing hard
for the Nationals in January in Auckland.