Duffus Park Bowling Club
Plan of action
In 2007 Duffus Park BC had a total notional playing membership of 125 and the committee decided to draw a line in the sand. They decided to give 100% backing to a Junior Development Programme with the specific aim of increasing membership and reducing the average age of club members. Additional changes included a streamlining of an outdated club structure that was no longer fit for purpose and complete unification of membership.
At this stage it was recognised that the Active Schools Network did not offer scope for official school participation and therefore the club would have to go it alone and be self sufficient in its endeavours.
The club implemented a new plan and underlined some basic principles:
- The ‘Aye-Been’ attitude of previous generations would be challenged at every opportunity.
- There had to be agreement among committee and club members to back the programme.
- Key personnel had to be identified to drive the project forward.
- Some members would be required to become official qualified club coaches.
- Junior coaching sessions had to be guaranteed EVERY week without exception.
- Juniors were to be made to feel a full part of the club – not an add-on.
- All Juniors were to have full membership rights within the club apart from obvious issues relating to alcohol and a vote at an AGM.
- The Junior Programme would focus on short, sharp fun-based bowling skill activity – with the key emphasis on FUN
Simple in theory – but a lot of hard work in practice!
A core Junior Development team led by Bowling Co-ordinator Andy Meekison and Club President John McIntyre set about implementing the plan and crossed their fingers. What they realised straight away was that they had to interact with the Juniors at their level, get them involved in all areas of club activity and concentrate on the FUN element of the sport to maintain their interest and enjoyment. Once this was established word spread among the kids in the town and every week 1 or 2 more would come along to try it out.
The team decided not to adopt a ‘hard sell’ approach but instead relied on the enjoyment the kids got from playing to be the vital selling tool. They soon utilised every single item they could find to provide visual challenges to the coaching sessions – knocking jacks into buckets, putting mini traffic cones on the rink to establish drawing lines – they even used a pink paddling pool and a home-build ramp to motivate and challenge the kids to play a running shot! It seemed to work as numbers increased on a weekly basis.
By the end of 2008 the club had around a dozen Juniors, by 2009 18 had joined and by the close of the 2010 numbers were up at 38 full paying Junior members – with the majority turning up weekly. At the end of the 2011 season the numbers were up to above 50 which caught the coaches a little by surprise, but having made the commitment they felt duty bound to follow it through.
Duffus Park did not receive any funding for their activities and the Junior Development team spearheading the programme were determined to make it self-financing and not a drain on club financial resources. To the contrary, the Juniors were tasked with an annual sponsorship activity (it turned out to be a morning of weeding the club paths, flower beds and generally tidying up the perimeter of the green) and each player was asked to try and raise £20. Since then each year the kids have raised between £400 and £900.
In addition, the coaching team organised a Sportsman’s Brunch which was a sell-out raising an additional £1300 profit. All monies were set aside for the Juniors and they in turn were able to purchase a dozen sets of Junior Aces, some sets of 00 ‘Slimline’ Bowls as well as each Junior getting their own personalised team shirt and rain jacket. They immediately became part of the fabric of the club. The initiative taken by Duffus Park to introduce a cohesive Junior Development Programme has undoubtedly been a huge success.
- From 2007 to 2011 Duffus Park membership has grown an astonishing 40% - almost completely due to the Junior Section.
- This was achieved with NO external funding from any external body, local authority or the club itself.
- The majority of the Junior Section are under 12 years of age.
- At the close of 2011 Duffus Park had more girls than boys playing the sport – 28 girls and 24 boys
- Fife Council have become involved with the Duffus Park Development programme, having realised the potential for combining the Duffus Park philosophy with their own Active Schools promotions in providing hard pressed teachers with a sport that can fit easily into their PE curriculum and allow every boy and girl to participate.
- A number of clubs in North East Fife are now working closely with Duffus Park and adopting their philosophy to actively promote junior bowling in the area as a way of re-invigorating the sport and attracting vital new family group members. This venture, ‘Bowl4Fife’ is a forward thinking and joined up approach and will hopefully continue to attract and inspire more clubs and has the potential to be rolled out in other adjoining counties and further afield.
The 2012 season has seen another increase in the number of youngsters flocking to Duffus Park and – the most crucial aspect – joining the club as members. With over 60 juniors at present, the target for the end of the season is 75.
To achieve this a number of actions are being taken, including; visiting local schools and inviting them to come along for taster sessions, ensuring the parents receive weekly newsletters by email letting them know what their kids are doing and what is planned for the rest of the season, introducing a midweek coaching session for the older kids where they can receive more intensive instruction and learn about tactics, etiquette and other club activities that they are encouraged to participate in.
To help bridge the gap between the ‘fun’ taster sessions and the game itself a number of juniors club competitions are being introduced which are run according to Scottish Young Bowlers Association competition standards. In addition, more club members are coming forward to offer their services to the coaches who are swamped on a Saturday. Overall it’s a vibrant and positive environment.
The future for Duffus Park looks bright but the club are under no illusions that they cannot rest on their laurels. Experience has shown that up to 25% of youngsters leave the game between seasons for a variety of reasons, with the hardest group to retain being teenagers who are S1-S3 at secondary school who suddenly find themselves faced with a range of life choices at that stage of their lives.
The challenge for Duffus Park is to make sure that the 25% who move on are replaced whilst ensuring that those who remain are stimulated and encouraged to stay in the sport and are afforded a range of opportunities to develop their playing career. In effect Duffus Park must ensure there is a clear ‘Bowling Pathway’ for their youngsters.
Key Steps to the Junior Programme & Club’s Success
- Full commitment from the club.
- A dedicated team of coaches and volunteers.
- Sessions at set times every week without exception.
- Make sure a Development Plan is in place but be flexible with it.
- Keep good communication with parents as they then feel part of the club.
- Make youngsters welcome and give them the same rights as any other member.
- Integrate youngsters with the general club membership at every opportunity.
- Give the youngsters the opportunity to elect their own Captain and Vice-Captain to represent them.
- Provide the youngsters with a club shirt so they are seen to be a part of the club.
- Make sure the youngsters do their own fundraising.
- Keep reviewing your Development Plan as it will undoubtedly face areas of change.