When will sport be more than a numbers game?

I am wondering at what point will the qualitative evidence of good experiences, happy members and legacy contributions outweigh simple member numbers as a measure of success for Australian sporting organisations at every level.

For as long as I have been involved in sporting organisations (at club, state and national level) there has been pressure from within and from Government to measure the organisation’s worth by virtue of member numbers. In some ways this also reflected the relative worth of the sport itself. And given some recent experiences at club level I so hope that at some stage someone is going to take into consideration other key factors in measuring the value of an organisation’s contribution to their particular sport.

Surf clubs are notorious for their bigger is better chest beating. The more members on the books the better the club must be, the more sponsors they attract, the more money there is for all the toys etc etc. However, I take that view that if those clubs dug a little deeper into their membership profiles and feedback they may discover dissenting views, fractured opinions and a current of unhappiness associated with being lost in the crowd.

In most cases it is not difficult to find a group of parents lamenting the lack of qualified volunteers conducting the activities; the lack of equipment available for the size groups being managed; and, often the lack of skill and knowledge being imparted on the kids because the group sizes are too big. (I hear all the public school teachers reading this saying – welcome to my world!)

So what if a club actually looked at its inventory of equipment, projected levels of qualified volunteer help, did a program of activities covering the bulk of the season and then said – well, how many kids can we have as members and achieve a happy, learned, skilled bunch at the end of the season?

Surely if you knew you were going to have 15 male and 15 female members in each age group in your club; then decided your policy was to have an excellent adult to child ratio as your competitive advantage (say 1:5 or 1:8) you would know how many adults you needed in advance. A program would help you know how many pieces of equipment each week to conduct the program of activities and parents would know exactly what was coming.

What would happen if instead of having 40% of 48 kids parents complaining about how little happens; you could have 90% of 30 kids and their parents boasting about the great club they are a member of?

I am not saying becoming exclusive is the answer but surely drawing a line in the sand and saying “this year we can only accept 140 kids into our program” then doing it really well is far better than accepting all comers and only having them stay a year or so then leaving unsatisfied. They of course will go and tell five other parents that they tried “x sport” and won’t be trying it again.

On the other hand, if they are in, having a great time they are going to be talking about it and then the club creates some momentum for not only increasing participation numbers but also setting a standard for parent support; qualified volunteers and equipment supply that must be met before participation is increased.

From the clubs I have worked and volunteered in I know first hand that as soon as you mention limiting numbers, the leadership gets scared they will be seen as underperforming and therefore not successful.

If a small bunch of very happy, skilled up kids and their happy, supportive parents who then give a lifetime of service to the club they first joined is not a measure of success then we are in the wrong game.

Just ask Mr Crawford…


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