Here is a true story from a new curler who tried to join our sport. Her name and the name of the clubs and city have been left out to avoid the embarrassment. But really it wouldn’t matter if we did identify them as this type of experience happens too often in many parts of Canada. My comments are in Italics.
After years of planning to start curling I finally did and loved it – the sport, not the club.
My first experience delayed my introduction to the sport by 4 years! I called a club early in the fall to join a beginner league as I just moved to the city. When I phoned I was told most of the teams had already been formed but that my name could be added to “substitute” list. But, the idea of starting a new sport irregularly with new people each time was intimidating.
Instead of a regular group to get to know and feel comfortable around and progress with, I was unsure. But with determination I added my name to the list.
I was called once. Mistake #1: New people do not like to be forgotten and not included.
Years later a friend at work told me that most clubs have a “learn to curl program” and that would help me to gain some basic skills and meet some other beginners. So where do I find out about these mystery training sessions? Mistake #2: Promoting new events and programs within your club alone does not encourage new people to join.
I checked the city’s Recreation Program Guide and spotted a “learn to curl” program for a ‘one time’ morning session. I signed up and went. Mistake #3: New curlers, golfers, etc. often do not fall in love with the sport in one session. They often learn more about what they can’t do than can.
Luckily, a friend told me about a four week “learn to curl” program at another club; a program not listed in the city’s program guide, or newspaper. The program was great, and by the end of the fourth class I could actually make a few shots and see my progress. The session ended just before Christmas. Over the holidays I thought about how I really enjoyed the sport. So I called the club in January to see if they were offering another “learn to curl” program only to discover that one had already started and was half over! Mistake #4: New curlers like information, e-mail or phone calls, to be told of upcoming programs and to be welcomed to the club.
So with my new slider I got for Christmas I showed up for the last two classes. That was now over two months ago and I have never been asked back, sent information about club leagues and fees, or encouraged to join. I will continue to curl, but not at any of these clubs. At this point I’m not shopping for a sport; I’m shopping for a club! Mistake #5: The interest in the sport will bring the new curler back to the sport, not the club. For all three clubs, I was never contacted by the club, not invited back to an open house to meet other people nor provided any help to meet other beginners to form a team. Also, none of the clubs took my name and address and sent information about membership, fees, and league structure or deadlines.
Epilogue: Instead of joining a league I joined a dance class. This fall I will call a new club in the area I am moving to and attempt to meet other beginners to start a team, but it would be nice if the club made it a little easier for the new curler!
Is there a moral to this story? You bet! Would it be difficult to remedy this “problem”? No!
Here are a few tips to deal with the list of mistakes.
Mistake # 1
This is probably the most difficult issue to deal with as most Canadian curling clubs have moved towards team entry only leagues. How does the single player with little or no experience get access to your programs? Try promoting leagues that include training / instruction not only prior to league play, but also offer more instruction during the first month of play. Even better start your own Getting Started league. It’s a growing phenomenon in Canadian curling and you would have kept this curler!!
(P.S. Draw-from-the-board leagues are regaining some popularity in facilities – especially family leagues. Both of these are terrific opportunities for new people looking for a little competition, a little training and a chance to meet new friends.)
Mistake # 2
Generally, it is inexpensive to build an awareness campaign. Newspapers often have community news areas and/or you can purchase radio time. You can but up signage outside the club, on the street or wherever you can get the message across. Of course, in today’s world web sites (are almost becoming traditional media) and Social media like Facebook are a must. If you’re not on the internet, you don’t exist!!
Same as #1. The one day learn to curl course just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Mistake # 4
When someone calls, e-mails or drops-in at the club, get their names and contact information so that you can build a database of customers and continue the dialogue. It is a simple process and the prospect will appreciate the information!
Mistake # 5
Our new curler is right on! The sport doesn’t recruit or retain – the club does. Therefore, you need to be proactive in the way you work with first year members or prospective customers. Pay extra attention to them from the time of “first contact” – the time when they first walk in the door of the building or when they make that first phone call to you – to three years down the road when they renew for the third time. Now you’ve got them and you are on your way to building a solid and ‘happy’ customer base!