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Bowls In Focus : Bowls In Focus May 2010
18 Bowls In Focus The Game Anyone Can Play? There is no doubt we all believe bowls is a great sport, containing as it does all the elements that make competition uplifting and crushing in equal measures. And there is available a level of competition that suits all skill levels. So it stuns and saddens many of us that the sport is contracting at an alarming rate. Every year fewer flat-soled feet are stepping out onto grass, car pet and plastic surfaces. At the same time other sporting pursuits, many that require a much heavier financial investment at the start, are going ahead in leaps and bounds But it’s a fact lawn bowls as a sport is losing players faster than many of us chaps are shedding hair follicles. According to the RVBA figures there have been nine seasons in the past 20 where the game has lost more than two per cent of member- ship in a 12-month period. That is a staggering level of decline in an era of a growing population and increased leisure time due to daylight saving. If you want an indicator as to why playing num- bers are dropping, let me regale you with a recent incident. My wife was playing in the state pairs and I went along as the one-bloke support crew. No sooner had I arrived at the Melbourne east- ern suburbs venue than up to me came bustling an extremely officious member to tell me, ‘There is no social bowls today, and you are not allowed in the club’ . I think I may have then damaged the clubhouse flooring with the impact of my dropping jaw. I could have been a potential member and I was being shown the door. If this was their idea of warm and welcoming, it was setting the bar at a new low. Then it dawned on me why membership levels were on an ever-downward trend: it wasn’t that death rates exceeded recruitment rates, but some clubs were being deliberately exclusive. When I came to Victoria in 1987 there were more than 52,000 affiliated bowlers on the RVBA books. I joined the Geelong West club, which had at that time, based on my hazy memory, 10 pennant teams. I don’t think their greens, just off Pakington St, had space for any more. I got a pen- nant spot, which meant some other poor bloke got pushed out. I was unreliably informed that some clubs even had membership waiting lists. Now let’s turn the clock forward 22 years. The 2008-09 RVBA annual report indicates there were 38,813 capitated players last season, down 422 on the 39,235 from 2007-08 - and that number was down 260 on the previous year. The figures are even worse for the VLBA. Its 2008-09 annual report shows numbers had fallen from 20,835 to 20,262 in only 12 months. One can only imagine how the first Bowls Victo- ria numbers will look when you remove the double affiliates. Just using my own club as an example, of the 140 members on its lists, there are 16 who were affiliated to both the VLBA and RVBA. That’s nearly 12 per cent. When there’s one BV member- ship, that’s going to be a quite a drop in contribu- tion to the state figures. Over the years the RVBA has expended a mas- sive amount of energy to push recruitment strate- gies, but I think many of these efforts fail at the club level. Why? Well I believe there are club officials out there who don’t want new members. They shun the hassle of helping novices get established. They dislike having the odious chore of teaching newbies the game and acquainting them with the rules. And they don’t want some young upstart taking their pennant spot. Anyway, they probably rationalise, I’ll be dead in 10 years time so I don’t care about the future of the game; I’m happy with the way things are now. Personally I reckon the current strategy of stag- ing open days and inviting a wide spectrum of the community is flawed. Yes, many clubs pick up a new member or two, but it’s a scattergun approach that wastes a lot of precious ammunition. Many open day attendees never return because they don’t know anyone else. My experience is that people take up another pursuit with their mates, with that innate competitiveness pushing each other to higher skill levels. Clubs that develop partnership arrangements with cricket, football, tennis, basketball, hockey, rugby, soccer, netball and cycling clubs often prosper in the recruitment stakes. Even having workplace Christmas functions on and around the greens helps stimulate people to think about bowls as a genuine sporting option. There’s strong evi- dence that people taking up bowls in groups of two or more acts as a conduit to more of their friends also getting involved and hooked. The other major flaw in the official recruitment philosophy, as I see it, is the devotion of so much focus on juniors and 20-somethings. There will al- ways be a drop-off from both these areas as work, study and relationship pressures bite into their time restraints. I am not advocating that state officials curtail this resource expenditure, but to lower their expecta- tions for long-term membership from these two groups. I would be most surprised if as many as 25 per cent of junior girls are still involved in bowls by the time they turn 30. The peer pressure on these girls to not waste time on playing an ‘old people’s’ game must be immense. Yes, have a junior pathway, but clubs will do bet- ter by convincing blokes in their 30s with banged- up bodies that there’s a great alternative to football - a nd the two seasons don’t overlap. They can still get along to support their footy club while getting their competitive fix on the bowling rinks. Or have an evening for the netball club with cut-price drinks and free finger food with bowls as a tempting side dish. You’d be surprised how many of these girls find our game attractive when they discover how many young unattached blokes are lawn bowlers. Hubba hubba. Peter Gerty
March April 2010
June July 2010