In this week's blog, Jeremy Child talks through his plan to get more people playing bridge in Devon:
Along with many other counties, Devon has a problem with a dwindling number of bridge players. On behalf of the DBA, I put together a plan for clubs to follow to get more members by teaching people from scratch.
Attempts to do this often fail because clubs do not appreciate that it takes about 2 years on average for a complete novice to go from learning the game to being able to play at most clubs. Some may do it much quicker, some will never get there. Why is this?
It’s not their low level of ability – that has never been a bar to playing in clubs! Most new players can play bridge (albeit not very well) after about 20 hours tuition.
It’s the speed of play. Club players take about 5 to 7 minutes a board, beginners 15 and upwards. This doesn’t work in a situation where everyone has to change around at the same time. If we try to put such players into clubs they feel pressurised and never come back.
I codified the steps I thought were needed into a “pipeline” which went from Basic Tuition through Supervised Play and No Fear Bridge, finally ending up in club sessions. It seemed clear that all stages of this pipeline needed to be planned before training was undertaken, and put together a checklist against which a plan could be assessed.
Next step was to create a plan for my own club – Exeter Bridge Club. This I duly did.
I started with the second and third stages of the pipeline because that was easier! Most clubs will struggle to find volunteers / venues / time in their calendar to do supervised / no fear sessions, so I came up with the idea of combining the two into a “Relaxed Bridge” session that could be available to anybody in the county. This meant online – and because of the interaction required, RealBridge was my platform of choice.
I started off with an ethos of “friendly and supporting”, and everything else followed on from that. 12 boards a session, 15 minutes a board, ability to look at notes and ask questions, and a team of “wanderers”. These were people who could respond to director calls (“Help what do I bid?”) as well as pop along to each table to see how they were doing. I also restricted it to simple systems.
One thing I did do was tightly control who was allowed to participate. I welcomed offers from club players who wanted to help, but was careful who I let in. I managed this by emailing the link out rather than publishing it on a website.
Getting participants was easier than I expected as there was a need out there waiting to be met. A few emails to club members and local teachers generated 30 people who wanted to partake. Initially I was worried that I might not get cooperation from teachers who could see me as pinching their students, but in fact they all appreciated how the opportunity filled in a gap and supported their students – keeping them interested so they can come back when they’re ready for another set of lessons.
The next stage was lessons, and the multitude of things that are needed for that (Funding, Venue, Day and Time, Teacher + Helpers, Equipment, Students). A lot of legwork followed!
What was particularly successful was the recruiting. Using a combination of methods (see the plan) we managed to get 35 people signed up, with another 22 who were interested but could not make the first set of lessons. Particularly effective were a paid advert in a local magazine, plus social media. Meetup (www.meetup.com) was the dark horse on this. For a cost of around £20 I created a group called “Learn to Play Bridge” in the Exeter section, and got 12 people signing up without putting in any more effort.
I don’t expect all 35 to continue with the course. The first lesson is free to see if they like it, and I estimate I’ll lose about a third who either decide it’s not for them or didn’t realise you had to pay for it.
As I write this, the first sessions of both the lessons and relaxed bridge are two days away. Wish me luck!