If you’re looking to get more players into your rugby team then hosting a recruitment event can be a great way to do this. I’ve put together some of my top tips from running recruitment events, both to start new teams and to help grow existing teams.
1. Get Your Marketing Right
We’ve got a complete guide to marketing that goes into tons of details on marketing topics, but we’ll focus in on a couple that are specific to events.
Goals & Target Audience
As mentioned in the guide, you need to have some goals – in this case it’s fairly easy to define because you’re looking for additional players. A good idea would be to set yourself a target for new players based on how many you need. If you’re starting a new team, however, then a whole team from one recruitment event might be too much of an ask, in which case you might set yourself the target of getting a small core together so that you can start training sessions. Either way, having this target in mind will make it easier to market – if there’s any marketing that doesn’t work towards your goal, you can discard it.
By hosting a recruitment event, you’ve also naturally narrowed down your target audience – obviously they need to be of the right age to play (no sense recruiting kids for your adults team!) but you will probably also know what kind of player you want – whether that’s a serious player, social player or beginners to the sport. Knowing this information will help you out when choosing where to market.
Message & Content
As with the Goals & Target Audience, a recruitment event makes it easier to determine your messaging and content – for example, if you’re looking at getting more social team players, that should be reflected in your message. To make this clearer, I’m going to use a couple of the Inner Warrior marketing images. Inner Warrior is the RFU brand for female rugby players who are brand new to the game, so we can determine that there are two main target audiences – one is women who haven’t played much sport before and are looking for an enjoyable balance between exercising and the social aspect, and the other target audience is women who have played other sports and would relish the new challenge that rugby provides. I’ve included two images that highlight these two main groups.
The first image is obviously aimed at the first group – with the specific reference to friendship as well as all the participants obviously enjoying themselves. The imagery and the wording combine to create a sense that this could be an environment that you would also enjoy yourself. The second one, by contrast, uses the word “challenge” and has two players locked in a contest, and although we can’t see much of their faces, there’s clear determination in the one we can see. This creates the messaging that will appeal more to players who have played sports before and are looking for something more challenging.
If your club already has social media and other communication channels set up then that’s a great place to post whatever content you create – especially if you ask your existing members to share. However, if you’re trying to start a new team, then perhaps you won’t have these set up or perhaps you won’t have many followers on your social media profiles if they’re recently set up, which leads us on to our next point.
2. Use Word of Mouth
Even if you’re setting up a brand new team by yourself and you haven’t got any “official” social media channels set up, you’ve hopefully got your own personal social media accounts and/or email contacts. Use these! If you’re trying to get the message out, then put it on your personal profile and ask your friends to share it with their friends – you’d be surprised at how many people you might be able to reach. Find groups that are relevant – whether that’s on Facebook or on a site like MeetUp or EventBrite that might help you find other people.
If you’ve already got a few people on board, or you’re recruiting for an existing team, then make sure all your players are sharing the information, both online but also offline. Word of mouth is far and away the most effective recruitment method I’ve come across – on average, across all the sessions I’ve been involved in, we’ve had more players come through based on a pre-existing connection to the team or an existing player or member than through traditional marketing methods. That’s not to say that regular marketing doesn’t work, just that Word of Mouth is something you simply cannot ignore.
3. Let people know what to expect
Hopefully, you’ve got a way of players registering themselves for your event – even if it’s as simple as signing up by email or on a Facebook event. Contacting people ahead of the event will help to allay fears which will help to keep your attendance high. For example, if you’re running a session for brand new players, you might want to include some pre-session information such as:
- Where and when (hopefully obviously but you’d be surprised how many people miss off this information!)
- What to expect in the session – do your sessions require any rugby experience? How intense will the exercises be? Will it be fun-based or is it going to be more challenging?
- What to expect before the session starts – is there a clear registration point where they can introduce themselves and ask questions? Will there be people on hand to guide them through the session or will they be left by themselves?
- What should they bring? We take things like boots and gumshields for granted as regular rugby players, but new players might not think to bring them. Can you design your session so that boots and gumshields aren’t required?
This information may also form part of your messaging – so you might include on your social media banners “No experience necessary, just turn up in something you feel comfortable exercising in.” Not only does this reduce any potential anxieties that new players may have, but makes it clearer who the session is aimed at.
4. Plan everything in advance
If there’s a universal truth around any kind of grassroots sports events, it’s that something will inevitably go wrong. With this in mind, try and get as much of your planning done before the event as possible. Not just your session plan, but also in terms of what jobs need doing and any volunteers that are going to do these jobs. Some examples:
- Is there a registration point for players on arrival? Who is manning this?
- Is there a buddy system to assign on the day? Do the buddies know what is expected of them?
- Do all the coaches know the plan and who is leading each section?
- What key events need to happen and how early can you make them happen? What contingency do you have if something goes wrong?
By having lots of clarity around the session plan and giving yourself plenty of wriggle room, you can ensure that when something inevitably goes wrong, that your whole session isn’t scuppered. For example – what would you do if no one turned up to open up your clubhouse or turn the floodlights on? You’ve now got to phone around to get this job done since it’s so key. Can you plan to arrive 30 minutes earlier than normal to give you extra time? Even if you can’t get there early, if everything else about the session is planned, it’s much easier to manage the things that have gone wrong. Imagine the same scenario – no clubhouse and/or floodlights except you’ve also got to brief all of your players and coaches, print off the registration forms and run the session yourself.
Give as many jobs as you can to other people and make sure everyone knows what’s happening before the event starts – your mental state will thank me when you encounter a problem! And if you don’t come up against any problems, then you’ll have a super well-organised event. I’ve received feedback for events in the past about how well-run they were – all we did differently was start on time by making sure we all turned up early enough!
5. Plan for 3 different sets of numbers
If you’re using a lot of existing players or you’ve got a strong signup system you might already have an idea of how many people are coming, but it’s still worth having a couple of different session plans based on numbers – similar to the above point, this is just about ensuring that you’re covering your bases.
I tend to think about this in terms of small, medium and large. A small session is essentially a session with fewer than you need for a “proper” game of touch rugby (e.g. less than 8). If you have only a handful, say 3-5 players and you cancel the session then I guarantee you that most of these people will not return. So you have to put something on for them – that’s obviously something for your coaching team to decide, but there’s definitely engaging work you can do with a small group of players but it will definitely look different from a bigger session.
The large session plan is essentially what do you do if you have more players than your space can deal with. So if you’ve got pitch space for 10 v 10 and you end up with 30+ what do you do with the extras? You can’t just leave them on the sidelines!
So having three plans will allow you to cater your session if you get more or fewer than you expected, ensuring you can provide a top quality experience for everyone who turns up.
I overwhelmingly recommend using existing players as part of the session – not only can they act as helpers and mentors, but they also help ensure you have good numbers and they’re the people that your new players are hopefully going to be playing alongside! If you’ve got several teams, you might want to be selective about using ALL of your existing players – if you have that luxury then choose players who are at the right kind of level – if they’re too good (and can’t reign it in) then it won’t be enjoyable for others.
6. Buddy System
It can be daunting for new people to come into an existing group – so have a buddy system where an existing player partners up with a new player means that they’ll know at least one person right from the start. It also means that these existing players will be able to help out with any issues – things like showing new players where the toilets/changing rooms are or being their partner if you have any pair activities in your session – reducing some of that awkwardness when the coach says “get into pairs.”
Make sure your brief your existing players on what you expect from them and try and pick people who are generally quite social.
7. Stash or equipment as a barrier to entry
One thing that can sometimes get overlooked is what your participants are wearing – if you’re a new player and everyone else has some club stash on then you’re immediately going to feel outside the group.
There are two main ways to deal with this, and which one you choose will depend on your budget.
The free option is to encourage your buddies in the buddy system mentioned above to wear club stash and for everyone else to wear neutral stuff, where possible. The main thing is that you don’t want your new players to feel like they’re “on display” – so ensure that there’s not a clear divide.
An even better option, if you have the budget is to have a free gift for new players who signup – preferably some stash! That way it won’t matter if the new players don’t have any of their own stash because they’ll get their first bit before the session. This also ties into your marketing – who doesn’t love receiving free stuff? If you’re able to sort out some club t-shirts then you might be able to convince a few extra people to come along. Even if the new players don’t end up continuing with the sport, they might be doing free advertising whenever they wear your t-shirt to the gym or anywhere else.
On the subject of stash – if you have any nice items of stash, but not enough to give to everyone (as an example, I once had two England Rugby hoodies) then you can do it as a competition for people. I personally used these hoodies, which were quite nice, as an incentive for existing players – for every new person they brought along to the session or every time they shared the social media stuff they got a certain number of raffle tickets assigned to them – so the more they shared and the more people they brought along the more chances to win. After the session we did a draw to determine the winners. It was a nice way to encourage the existing players to work hard at the recruitment aspect.
8. Your One Goal – enjoyment
Everything so far has been around promoting and running your session but I wanted to reiterate the main goal within all of this – to make sure that the new players enjoy themselves and want to sign up. Don’t lose sight of this! Things will almost certainly go wrong, especially the first time you try and run recruitment events. The thing is, no one is expecting perfection, they just want to have an enjoyable experience (and given your work in understanding your target audience, you should have a good idea what this looks like). If something goes wrong, don’t let it get to you – just ensure you do everything you can to keep the session flowing.
If you’re playing a particular game and everyone seems to be loving it, don’t feel like you’ve got to change it just because it’s on your plan. If you get this session right, you’ll have loads of opportunities to coach these players because they’ll become part of your club.
You should also enjoy the process yourself – one of my favourite experiences as a coach is still seeing brand new players playing for the first time. You can’t take yourself too seriously in a session like this – just ensure everyone is having a good time, starting with yourself and you’ll find that people will want to be part of your club.
9. Follow Up
After the session, you probably already have an idea of the “exit route” for new players – i.e. what you want them to do next. This might be a 4-6 week beginners course or it might be regular club training – either way make sure you tell them this at the end of the session – including times, locations and cost.
Depending on how you planned your session you should have contact details for everyone who attended – whether you got them to sign up before the session or not. Now it’s time to use this information!
Send them a message thanking them for coming along and reminding them of the next opportunity for them to be involved. This is also a great chance to ask them for any feedback on the session – things they loved and things they weren’t so keen on.
Well done – you did it! Hopefully you’ve now got a few new players who are keen to play for your rugby team.
If you asked for feedback you’ll hopefully have a lot of good comments from participants and it’s a good time to talk to existing players and other coaches and volunteers who helped in the process and try and work out what worked well and what you would do differently. Recruitment tends to be an ongoing process rather than a one-off activity, so it’s worth learning any lessons you can to make the next one even more effective.
Cycle back to your goal that you came up with at the start and use the following questions to help get some improvements for next time, but also to make sure that you keep doing the things that worked:
- What was our original goal?
- How well did we achieve this goal?
- What were the things that worked really well?
- What were the things that didn’t work well?
- What is something that we didn’t try this time that we now feel might have worked?
I hope that this helps – all of these tips are based off recruitment events that I’ve run myself and I tried to pick the best ones because I know that your time is valuable and often limited when it comes to rugby activities.
If you’ve got any questions or if you’ve got some great recruitment tips that I’ve missed, feel free to leave a comment. If you’re going to run a recruitment event and you’ve got some questions, I’d love to help – my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.