Running a teaching programme: a guide for clubs

This guide presents a range of options for how to start and run a teaching programme. It is not prescriptive but is intended as a resource from which a club can select what suits their circumstances. 

We are always happy to help. Contact us.

Learning bridge

Why teach?

Bridge is a wonderful game but has an elderly demographic, which means there is an urgent need to attract new players. The EBU believes that every club should have a positive response ready for enquirers – whether that means joining a class at the club, or referring to a teacher elsewhere who will be helpful to them.

John Glasscock – Basingstoke Bridge Club

“The age profile of bridge club players means that every year we lose members due to ill health. To maintain a steady and hopefully growing membership, teaching has become our main strategy.”

Nicky Bainbridge – Rugby Village Bridge Club

“For my club the measure of success was growth in the numbers of players attending duplicate competitions and practice. We built a safe, welcoming and tolerant environment. Anyone who wanted to try to learn could do so for as long as they wished. We produced some good club players, but probably more who were never going to be strong but enjoyed bridge with us and ventured bridge holidays and cruises and enjoyed themselves.”

Nicola Renshaw – Cheltenham Bridge Club

“I’d need to look closely at data, but around 50-60% ish  of our learners are playing regularly.  Others are playing more infrequently.  It’s made a massive difference to the club. Immeasurable.  I’d say, if it weren’t  for the teaching programme over the last 5-6 years, we’d be struggling as a club.”

Tim Anderson – EBU Membership Development Officer

“According to EBU statistics, the average age of bridge club members continues to climb and is now elderly. While we celebrate the fact that bridge brings so much enjoyment and value to senior members, it also follows that the future of the game depends on our success now in bringing in new players.”

Steps required to set up a teaching programme

Note: While we can offer some pointers and some learnings from experience every club and every situation is different so what follows will not be right for everyone.

Before you begin

Before embarking on a teaching programme, it is essential to think about what happens after the first course completes - otherwise disappointment is sure to follow. A plan to follow a programme of teaching (whether online or face to face) with gentle or supervised bridge is essential. New players who complete a 12-week course, for example, will be far from ready to join a standard club session. Experienced bridge players may forget how challenging the things they do from habit can seem to newcomers, especially in face to face bridge: sorting a hand, holding it in a fan, operating bidding boxes.

Speed of play is another factor. A typical board in a club session takes 7 or 8 minutes. Beginners may need twice that time. It is no good introducing them to a club session and then complaining that they are slow – it is not their fault! There is more on this subject of transition below.

A teaching campaign must have the backing of the club committee, for clubs that are set up with one. It is going to involve a number of people with members needed to supervise assisted play which will follow the lessons.

Things you will need to do:

  • Organise bridge lessons. You need a venue, whether face to face or online, and a teacher.
  • If face to face, find a room for gentle bridge/supervised play. Ideally, this is the normal club venue. Maybe there is already space; but if it is on at the same time as a club session, will you have enough volunteer help?
  • Plan an introductory or taster event. 
  • Plan a marketing campaign. 

There is more information on all these steps below.

Jeremy Child, Exeter bridge club

"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." More info

Choose your teaching strategy

There are many different approaches to teaching bridge, all of which can be effective. Here are some possibilities with pros and cons.

Option 1: A traditional face-to-face 2-year course

You will need a venue with both bridge equipment and a means of displaying information to a group, such as a whiteboard, flipboard, or large computer display. 

A bridge teacher with students

You will also need a syllabus for the course such as the Bridge for All scheme developed by English Bridge Education and Development (EBED). Bridge for All has a first year book called Beginning Bridge Book One (the “Red book”), and a second year book called Beginning Bridge Book Two (the “Green book”).

Bridge is fun to play - so plan practice games as part of the course, starting with Minibridge, a simplified version of the game that has no bidding section.

Paul Bowyer – County Bridge Club, Leicester

In order to learn bridge effectively, students have to understand the “foundation stones” of the game. To achieve that, they need plenty of practice with reinforcement of concepts (so that both bidding and cardplay topics are constantly revisited). The principle is to build on prior learning with new ideas while reminding students of what they have (or should have) already learnt. In the scheme of work used in Leicestershire, lessons alternate between bidding and cardplay. This allows cardplay lessons to use deals that are constructed so that the bidding is from previous lessons on bidding and, in similar vein, to have bidding lessons that use deals that are constructed so that the cardplay is from previous lessons on cardplay. If lessons are constructed so that each new topic is separate and unrelated to previous topics, learning is ineffective as students forget things. This all takes time, the more so in that there are not that many bidding topics within a one-year course (because half the lessons are on cardplay). To get through necessary foundation work in sufficient depth (and not “skim” topics), it is necessary to have a couple of years’ work (as a minimum).

Richard Smith – County Bridge Club, Leicester

At the County Bridge Club we use Paul Bowyer's programme of 73 Chapters, all of which have slide presentations, quizzes and notes for both students and teachers. The programme is used by the County Bridge Club teachers and Charnwood Bridge Teachers (web sites are of those names). 

Option 2: Learn Bridge in a weekend (Fast Track Bridge)

These face to face courses are an accelerated active learning programme aimed at giving students the basic skills and confidence to participate in group play. The goal is that after completing the course, the new players and play and enjoy bridge, even if not to a high standard, and continue their learning from there. 

EBED offers a book for this called Fast Track Bridge – Learn and Play in 24 hours

Such courses are suitable for new players or those returning to the game and offer an alternative approach to the two-year programme. Young people learn quickly and may prefer a fast-paced course. A “learn bridge in a weekend” course can also be a sociable and focused way to learn, for example using a country hotel from Friday to Sunday.

These accelerated courses are not designed to replace the longer class-based teaching programmes but offer another route for students who want a quick path to unassisted play.

This kind of course can also be run as part of a holiday for example over a full week, but with bridge teaching intermingled with other holiday activities.

At the end of the course, it is essential that students are offered supervised and assisted  games and further teaching to reinforce and develop the concepts introduced during the fast track programme.

Gayle Webb – Warminster Bridge Club

The course we followed was the EBED fast track one and the pupils were all supplied with a book. One year we did it over two weekends and one Friday and the second year over 5 consecutive days, Monday to Friday. Roughly 24 hours of contact time on each. All students were 60+, some had played a small amount before the others were complete beginners. Cost was £150 each including the book that cost us £25 each.

This year we included social media advertising and got 11 students, Facebook bringing in 6 people. Course length was 2 days, Sat and Sun from 10 - 5.  We wrote our own course and gave a handout after each presentation.  Lots of hands on playing sessions.  Cost this year was £75 each. 

Following the course, we have had some pleasing results.   8 of the 11 have started playing in either supervised play sessions and / or gentle duplicate sessions.   They are managing admirably despite limited amount of teaching time which we feel proves that they really start to learn the game once they start playing.

Option 3: Teach online

Teaching bridge online has many advantages. There is no problem with travel, it is super easy to replay boards or undo bids or cards played, revokes and underbids are impossible, and depending on the platform, you can easily use prepared boards, show presentations and run quizzes. 

There are also some downsides: occasional connection issues, less social contact, and possibly a harder eventual transition to face to face play if that is the goal. Even clubs that do not wish to run regular online games  can have groups of students who receive online tuition before returning face to face for supervised play and eventual integration into the club. 

Even with face to face classes, students may well want to take advantage of online resources to practice play, watch training videos, or play a few boards with friends.

Online does not mean giving up local! You can run courses for local people online, and in fact a lot of clubs do just that.

Within “online” there are still plenty of different approaches to teaching, the most important thing being that the teacher uses the material that works for them, whether that is following the Bridge for All books or something completely custom.

Some clubs have successfully run supervised sessions online using a table supervisor at every table. Basingstoke bridge club has a guide for supervisors.

John Glasscock – Basingstoke Bridge Club

We try to adapt to the preferences of students but also the skills and preferences of our teaching pool. This year we are running the Green book course online. (These students did the Red Book course online last year) We have a F2F Red book course which will start shortly. Our Fast Track programme is F2F and will start in November.

Basingstoke BC

Our lessons take about 2 hours and are a combination of a lesson using Zoom for no more than half an hour followed by play using RealBridge. During the talk, I want people to be able to ask questions and for everyone to hear the questions. I try to keep the talk reasonably short, partly because if there's too much it won't be remembered, and partly because all the feedback is that people want to play rather than listen. The play is in RealBridge with one supervisor per table. This works well so long as numbers can be divided up into fours (supervisor playing) and fives (supervisor watching). There are always 8 deals, very much geared to the lesson content, with an odd one thrown in from previous lessons, trying to ensure dealer doesn't always have an opening bid and equalise who gets to be declarer. Sources of deals are EBED hand bank, made up myself, EBED books and a former club teacher.

Yarnton Bridge Club:

We had always wanted to offer a teaching course in the club but realised it was not possible with the structure of the club the way that it is.  As various attempts to deliver teaching in the club had failed we decided we would approach Real Bridge and find out which clubs were running a successful teaching programme online.  They came back with 3 clubs from which we chose Basingstoke.  We met the chairperson and the person who delivers the teaching programme at Basingstoke to discuss what they could offer and how we could make it work for our club.  Basingstoke offered to deliver the EBED Year One course.  It was to be one afternoon a week.  They offer a 20-25 minute presentation on Zoom which is followed by a Real Bridge session where they play 8 boards which reinforces the learning from the Zoom session. 

Each table has its own table supervisor.  The supervisors are brilliant.  The feedback from the students is always positive.  They like the fact that rather than being allowed to make mistakes and then go over it at the end, instead they are sometimes asked to request an undo and have another go having been reminded of the content of the lesson.  This applies to both bidding and declarer play. 

Each week I am sent some notes for the Monday lesson.  I send this out to all the students so they can do some reading before the lesson if they wish.  After the lesson I follow this up by sending out the hands they have played online with commentaries.  All the lesson materials are linked to the EBU red book and each student holds a copy of the book, they have either purchased it or borrowed it from the club.  We give feedback to the teaching team on a weekly basis and will be reviewing the course at the end of this term.

Timing and fees

Determine what you will charge for your lessons. The fees should cover the cost of the teacher and the room or online fees. Charge enough up-front to secure a commitment but not so much as to put people off. Some clubs offer the first few lessons free and this has proved to be successful.

Consider overall timing. It can take up to six months from initiating a recruitment campaign request to the date of the first recruitment event / first lesson date. This is because a full marketing plan needs to be pulled together and this requires to be approved by committee and opportunity given to have the club members’ buy-in. Getting a good plan agreed and committed to is one of the keys to success.

Finding a teacher, supervisors and assistants

Not every club has a club teacher. There is a list of teachers on the EBU site: you just enter your postcode and a list of teachers will be shown, with the nearest at the top. You could check the teacher’s web site (where available), interview them, and talk to former or existing pupils to learn more about a teacher you are considering. Don’t forget to discuss what happens at the end of the course: you want new members for your club. EBED also maintains a list of teachers; some are in one directory but not the other so check both.

Most teachers of bridge are enthusiastic club players and it may well be that you have already have such a person in your club who would like to look after your beginners if given the right help, which would probably be attendance at a teacher training course run by EBED (English Bridge Education and Development) which are free to members of EBU affiliated clubs. Club Teacher Training Courses will show new teachers effective, teaching techniques and will also introduce and practice use of the Bridge for All materials

The title ‘teacher’ may put some people off who would like to assist but not take the lead. A successful programme will be very reliant on these people so give them every possible encouragement and support.

Nicky Bainbridge:

“Recruiting teachers worked best as a slow progression from inviting good players with suitable experience or personality to assist at lessons/practice to proposing formal training and leading sessions. We quickly found that strong players with low empathy and poor communications skills can put learners off. Teaching requires a high level of personal skill and presentation and people who understand what it involves may not be willing to say yes to such a challenge without a chance to experience the rewards (in terms of satisfaction) first”.

John Glasscock:

"Our teachers are all volunteers from within our club membership. All practice tables are supervised by further volunteers."

Marketing your courses and preparing your club

Douglas Wright (Three Counties Bridge):

“I have a simplistic approach to this, which is to ensure each Club has a "Development Officer" who has responsibility for Marketing and Teaching. He / She ensures each Club either has a Teacher or works with a local Teacher.”

It is no use setting up a wonderful teaching programme unless you have students! The best way to find them is among those things that vary widely from one area to another. Social media like Facebook, Instagram and Nextdoor can be helpful, so too can local community publications. Word of mouth from members of a club can also be very effective. No publication is too small; in fact, the little newsletter produced for a housing estate can be more effective than an advertisement in a local paper with a large circulation. Where the local paper can be good though is if you can get an editorial story in, perhaps about the community benefit of bridge, or a member reaching the grand age of 100, or a story about how bridge keeps the mind active and is a great way of meeting new friends.

The EBU has marketing materials including posters and leaflets. The idea is that the local club stamps its contact details onto every one, so they become local rather than national publicity. Clubs can order these materials from the EBU shop.

EBU marketing materials

Marketing ideas

  • Plan an introductory or taster event. Marketing a club by saying “come along sometime” is less effective than having a specific date. If you run the taster event at the same time as is planned for the lessons, this helps confirm their availability at that time.
  • Emphasise that beginners can learn on their own. They do not need to come with a partner.
  • Plan a marketing campaign. Posters at community sites (community centres, libraries, health centres, shop noticeboards etc). Leaflets for club members to give to friends. Maybe a stall at the local summer fete. Facebook marketing works well because you can target just those in a certain location and age range – we have a guide. Try to get an article or two in the local press. Be wary of press advertising though: it is easy to spend a lot of money with little result. Another thing we have found relatively ineffective is leaflet drops door to door. Those leaflets soon get swept into the bin.
  • Use local Facebook groups and sites such as Nextdoor

from John Blackett Ripon BC

"The best marketing tool we have found is local Facebook pages. Each local village has a Facebook page and we post on all of these. Also, posters up where ever we can. We recruit new students by word of mouth and relevant, up to date info on the website and this year we used EBU leaflets but probably word of mouth is our best recruiter."

from Suzi White Bridgwater & Cannington BC

Meg and I ran this taster session on Saturday to introduce new people to bridge. We had 10 people attending. We demonstrated mini bridge and were able to sign up 8 people for the first 10 week course commencing in January. With several others contacting us thanks to our poster being displayed in 2 golf clubs and a bowling club. So, the train the Trainer course was well worth the investment.

from Peter Bibb Tonbridge Wells BC

We decided to use the town's Heritage Day as an excuse to open our doors to people interested in the architecture of the building or in playing or coming back to bridge. We got some free advertising from the Heritage Day organising committee, put up posters, and emailed all the members encouraging their friends who are interested in learning or in coming back to bridge, to pop in on the day. We got about 18 people interested in the bridge and about 6 in the architecture. We opened the doors between 10am and 4pm, and asked volunteers from the club to be in attendance. We arranged for an introductory bridge lesson for between 11 and 12:30, and a beginners' duplicate between 2 and 3:30pm. That's about it!

from Nicky Bainbridge Rugby Village BC

“The most reliable way of recruiting learners is through existing club members.”

After the first course is complete: what next?

Carry on campaigning

A membership campaign is not a one-off. The goal is to change your club culture so that you are always bringing in new faces. As you grow, so too your resources will grow. By the time you have your first taster event, it is time to plan the next one; then you have a positive response to give anyone who missed out. And your newest players will also be the best advertisement for bridge and for your club – ask them for some quotes about why they enjoy it!

“Our future plan is to start a Junior Bridge Club.  We are currently reviewing how we can do it.  Ultimately our plan is for a Saturday morning session which offers tea and coffee to the parents and maybe the opportunity for them to learn along with their children.  Watch this space!”

Successful transition to club membership

The goal of bridge teaching is not just that people learn the game, but also that they become regular club players. This is what will keep bridge clubs flourishing.

This transition can be a difficult one. There are a number of obstacles including:

  • It is one thing to learn the game, another to play at club standard -  though what club standard means varies a lot from one club to another. This makes joining a session with mostly experienced players daunting, and a novice pair may well score badly which can be discouraging.
  • Playing bridge to a high standard includes observing all the laws, which can be a lot for a new player to take in as well as creating a different and possibly intimidating atmosphere compared to what might have been quite a chatty and informal series of bridge lessons or even supervised play.
  • There is an important social aspect to bridge, such that a player who is comfortable in the group where they learned the game may feel less comfortable in a new group of unfamiliar faces.
  • It is possible that a new bridge player with a more social attitude to bridge may never want to play in a more competitive session. An inclusive approach to bridge may mean creating new, less competitive sessions rather than presuming that the all newcomers must eventually play competitively.
  • Students who have learned online face a double journey if joining a face-to-face session. Online bridge has no revokes, no leads out of turn, no underbids, and no possibility of being overheard at the next table. Alerting rules are different too. All these differences must be taught.

The consequence is that the retention rate for new players may be as low as 20%, which is dispiriting considering the effort that goes into teaching. 

There are couple of general principles here. One is that people who learn together like to play together. A good way to lose people is to tell them that they must now join a new session with different people. Another is that players want to progress at their own pace. There is a lot of variation in the speed of learning bridge and rigid programmes based on moving after a certain number of weeks are not ideal. Third, are people enjoying themselves? If they are, they will stay; if not, that is a problem to fix.

Strategies for retaining novices
1. Gentle duplicate

The key and well-proven strategy is to have a gentle duplicate session for novices to join. Exactly how this works varies a lot from one club to another, and it may be online or face-to-face. The important thing is that it is a non-intimidating session where players can make mistakes without any embarrassment and get help if needed. When players feel more confident, and would like a bigger challenge, they can migrate to a full club session. Perhaps some will never migrate; that might not be a bad thing if they are enjoying bridge. Some further ideas:

  • If the session is face-to-face clubs need to find a venue. Ideally this is the same venue where other sessions take place. 
  • Numbers must be viable, which means at least three full tables and preferably more. Not everyone will turn up every week, so the plan to have twice that number in the pool of potential players. This could be boosted by other club members, or it could make sense to run sessions shared with other clubs.
  • Shorter sessions are often popular with novices. The game can be stressful even in gentle duplicate, and novices may want a bit more time, so consider a 16-board session or similar, especially if online.
  • If room availability or cost of hire is an issue, some clubs have found success in running gentle duplicate at the same time and in the same room as a club session. Typically they may play the same boards but have an independent movement and perhaps a shorter session. This is good for introducing new members to the club, especially if a tea/coffee break is included (you may need to warn people not to discuss the boards).
2. Combined events

Run events that bring all club members together. These could be purely social events, or bridge events designed for a mix of standards, or special charity events like Café Bridge. 

Some clubs have a buddy system where an experienced player partners a novice and will give them guidance as far as possible within the rules, and help to smooth things over in the event of any mishaps like a bid or lead out of turn.

3. Training novices for transition

There is a lot to learn about a duplicate bridge session that likely was not covered in the lessons. Things like how to use a bidding box, when to call the director (and not to be fearful of doing so, or feel got at if someone else calls the director at your table), when you can ask about what an opponent’s bid means, how to read a system card, why you have to be careful about discussing a board or commenting on your hand during play, and more. The EBU has a transition pack which is material for running a short course on such matters and is available to EBU affiliated clubs. Transition Course from EBED.

4. Training the club and directors

It would be wrong to imagine that obstacles to new members joining existing sessions are only a problem for the new members. Rather, they are a problem for the club. Therefore, it is the club that needs training as much as the novices. Strategies include:

  • Educate the club on the necessity for new members and the fact that they will make more mistakes and need extra patience and support. Point out that they may well get a bad score so it is not appropriate to come down hard on things like hesitations or consulting your own system card.
  • Club directors set the tone for a session. A few words of welcome at the start, or a general introduction stating that “we are a mixed standard and we especially welcome our less experienced players” helps a lot to make people feel comfortable. Work hard on the approach to the table when called, it is “how can I help” not “oh dear what has happened here.”
  • Create a culture of friendliness in the club. The EBU’s Best behaviour at Bridge guidelines are good and every member should be aware of them. Unfriendly behaviour prohibited and can be penalised if necessary.

From Richard Evans:

“Handicap results are a cornerstone of Stansfield bridge club’s weekly evening session and Suffolk is using them more at events run by the county.

The very nature of traditional bridge scoring means, inevitably, the best players come top. But as with golf and horse racing, where a handicapping system underpins both sports, bridge handicaps - based on NGS grades - levels the playing field and gives everyone an equal chance of their day in the spotlight.

The joy and delight of lower ranked players who finish top or in the places is a huge plus for any club. I cannot recommend Handicapped results too much; and they are easy to create.”

From Adrian Darnell:

“In terms of transition, we have traditionally retained the majority of our students through our Monday evening assisted duplicate session. We regularly have 4/5 tables on Mondays; we play 18 boards and another of our members writes a weekly commentary on all 18 boards. There are at least 3 experienced players on hand to offer advice, when asked for, regarding any calls and/or plays. Our students move seamlessly from classroom to Monday clubroom, and a number of them then move to our Tuesday afternoon sessions. But having said that there are some players who are perfectly content to maintain their Monday bridge and have no ambition to play in any more competitive environment. 

The assisted play sessions occasionally (and usually in response to a specific request), incorporate a short (15 minutes or so) ‘improver tutorial’ on some topic which has included, as examples, ‘Landy defence to 1NT’, ‘negative doubles’ and ‘Lebensohl’”

From Claire Johnson:

We have been very fortunate as the Director we have is able to run 2 sessions on the Bridgemates where the whole room plays the same boards with one group playing 12 boards and the rest of the room playing a competitive 18 board game..  There can be 2 or 3 tables each week playing the gentler game.  They are fully supported by the director and usually a more experienced player as well.  They can put their hands up and ask for help in both bidding and declarer play.  All help given comes with an explanation which hopefully enhances their learning. They also learn how to use the Bridgemates and can see their scores projected on the wall as they go along.  They can often be seen taking a photo of the results on the wall when they spot that they are at the top of their section. Players are very comfortable playing in this gentle game.  If there aren't enough players to make up full tables the director or another player will make up the numbers so they can play a proper game with a movement.  The aim is to build up players' confidence and improve their knowledge so eventually they naturally progress into the 18 board game.  This does happen!!

From Bath BC:

Play & Learn – assisted play for improvers

These sessions are designed for players who know the basics but aren't quite ready to 'go it alone' in bidding and play. We play 14 boards in duplicate format at a leisurely pace – and help is at hand whenever you need it. The boards used have previously been played elsewhere, so participants can compare their own results not just with each other's but also with those of more experienced players. It's great fun and an effective way of improving your bridge.

Come with or without a partner – we can find you a partner if you don't have one, and you might even get lumbered with one of the teachers!

Quick links

Steps required to set up a teaching programme

Choose your teaching strategy

Finding a teacher, supervisors and assistants

Marketing your courses and preparing your club

After the first course is complete: what next