Every club wants to believe that they’re welcoming, right? I can’t imagine there’s a club out there who would proudly state “we are not a welcoming club!” However, it can be difficult to see ourselves from an outsider’s perspective. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons why clubs aren’t as welcoming as they think they are. We’ll also come up with a “Welcome Process” to make sure that you don’t miss anything.
Before we start – I want you to think of your “welcoming environment” as a scale. Sometimes people think that a club is either “welcoming” or “not welcoming” but it’s better to think of it in terms of activities that make your club more welcoming or less welcoming. The goal is not to reach the perfect welcome but to improve in small, manageable steps.
Why do we need to be welcoming?
Hopefully this isn’t going to be a hard-sell for most clubs! A more welcoming environment will help you engage people quicker, and turn potential customers (whether that’s players, fans or volunteers) into raving fans that love your club. When someone turns up, they’re assessing whether this is the right club for them. A more welcoming environment won’t be the sole factor that determines whether or not they stay, but it will get them to stay long enough to find out. A less welcoming environment may mean they disappear before they have a chance to find out why your club is so great.
Why most clubs won’t be able to assess whether or not they’re welcoming
Most clubs find it difficult to assess whether or not they’re a welcoming club. Whether you’re a player, coach or a volunteer, at your club, you likely know a lot of people. You’re friends with many of them. You’re bound by your common love of the sport and your club. You have a common purpose and that helps make your organisation one that others would want to be part of. So you think that your club must be welcoming, because it welcomed you and now you’re part of it.
But this isn’t necessarily what an outsider will see. Let’s use an example – you’re captain of the team and you turn up to training and there’s a new player there. They look a bit nervous, standing off by themselves. No one goes up to them. You, quite naturally, head over to your mates and start chatting about what you’ve been up to. The four of you head to the changing rooms, laughing and joking, and the new player follows you. You all head out and start throwing a ball to each other in pairs. The new player throws one to themselves.
Looking at the example, there’s no doubt that the club is friendly – after all, the team mates are laughing and joking with each other. It seems like the team has very close bonds. That’s a good thing right? Well, yes it is – it’s not a negative to be close to your team-mates, but it comes at a cost. The new player doesn’t know anyone and may feel isolated. How long do you think that new player will stick around if no one talks to them? Certainly not long enough to become part of the team!
The key thing is that no one set out to deliberately isolate the new player – no one thought about it! We naturally flock towards our friends at the rugby club. However, if we don’t welcome new people, we can miss out on potential new friends. To ensure that this doesn’t happen by accident, we’re going to try and create a process to welcome new people.
Creating a “Welcome Process”
It’s great to have someone within the team whose responsibility is welcoming new players and is often the first step that clubs take. However, what happens when this person isn’t around? Your ability to retain new players becomes solely dependent on luck – namely whether they turned up on a night where the welcoming committee were there!
It would be far better if everyone was responsible for welcoming new players. Even if their only job is to identify new people, introduce themselves and then take that player to a captain or coach. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated and we’re not suggesting that you have to become their new best friend. But every member of a team should be able to identify someone new and take them to the right place.
Your Welcome Process can start before they come through the door
Obviously the above example talks about someone who’s turned up for the first time and making sure they feel welcomed. But sometimes you won’t even get that chance! I know a player who moved to a new area and went down to a training session at a local club, but didn’t even get out of his car and eventually drove off. Starting at a new club can be a big deal for some people – so we need to take as many steps as we can to reassure them.
Whenever I run a recruitment event now, I try to make sure we have a “What to Expect” guide. This will normally be a fairly short list. One of my favourite tips for recruitment events is to send this information out as an email to all participants that have signed up. It acts as a reminder as well as giving them some reassurance that the event will be well designed.
- When and where the session is
- Who or what to look for when you arrive
- What they should bring e.g. when we run recruitment events for girls, we tell them something like “Wear anything your feel comfortable exercising in. If you have football or rugby boots, bring them, but if not then trainers will be fine.” This is because most of them will never have played before
- An overview of the session
- Invite any questions they may have
It’s also information you can put on a “new players” page on your website. Just make sure this is something that is easy for new players to find.
Getting them involved
This isn’t a coaching blog, but session design is a huge part of keeping players involved. Hopefully your Welcome Process does enough to get them into your club and out on to the field. This might include having someone to show them around – especially for things like changing rooms and toilets. It sounds like a small thing, but showing someone around makes them feel a little more welcome – just like if you showed someone around your own home. It’s also a chance to show them any cool things about your club and talk a little bit about your club.
If you have a new player within an existing team, I always like giving them a buddy for the session who will partner up with them for pair activities and play on the same team as them in game activities. Try and pick someone who will actually do this job well. I’ve previously assigned this job to a player only to turn round 5 minutes into a paired activity to see that two groups of two had turned into a one and a three, with the new player standing by herself!
When we’re running a recruitment event, so with lots of people who are new, you’ll want to do some warm-up activities that act as ice-breakers. It can be as simple as introducing yourself to your partner. One of my favourite ice-break warm-up games I stole off a friend and co-coach. It’s heads, shoulders, knees, toes, cone – two players stand with a cone between the two of them. They follow your instructions as you say the various body parts and when you say cone, it’s a contest to see who can pick it up first. I have no idea why it works so well, but I’ve never had a group of players not laughing by the end of a few rounds. Children and adults (aka big children!).
After they leave
As a marketing person, following up is one of the biggest pieces of advice I could give to rugby clubs. Most clubs are fairly good at getting people involved in their sessions, but there’s no follow up. All you need to do is send the person a message after the session to see whether they enjoyed themselves. Not only does it a demonstrate a personal touch, it shows that your club cares about people.
You should also ask for feedback on the session – that way, if the player doesn’t come back, you might get some clues as to why. Ask the question in a way that encourages them to be honest about what they didn’t like – otherwise you’ll get a lot of “yeah it was alright” type answers. One way you can do this is by framing the question as them helping you out – e.g. “Also, if you don’t mind helping us out, we’re always looking to improve how we welcome new players – if there was one thing that you felt we could have done better, please let us know.”
Hopefully this gives you some good ideas to start implementing your own Welcome Process to ensure that all new people have a good chance to be involved with your club. Our examples have been primarily new players, but the concepts apply to everyone joining your club – players, volunteers and fans.
- Have a welcoming process that everyone knows – even if the only job is to say hi and then take them to someone else!
- Include plenty of information to reassure potential new people – if you can, let them know what to expect before they turn up
- Get them involved as soon as possible
- Follow-up with them to demonstrate how much you care and to get any feedback on how you could do better next time.
Once you’ve got your Welcome Process together – make sure all your existing players/members know about it! Make sure you communicate it to people regularly. After all, it’s something that will help them to grow their club so they should be happy to do it.
Got any questions, or got some great examples of your own. Send us a Tweet @GRG_GrowRugby!