Post the Rio Olympics a number of clubs have experienced a welcome boost in membership numbers. Steve Landells talks to the three clubs about what factors have contributed to the growth.
Point Chevalier Amateur Athletics Club
If you need a template of how to grow membership, then there is no finer example of how to achieve that goal than Pt Chevalier Amateur Athletics Club.
Around a decade ago the central Auckland club went through a period of rapid growth with at one point more than 420 kids enrolling annually.
Nonetheless, over time these impressive numbers have been slowly eroded due to the winter sports clubs in the area introducing more summer activities, according to Club President Michael Christini.
This led to a decline in membership at Pt Chevalier to around 250 a couple of years ago and to combat this trend the club adopted an innovative strategy to attract more kids to athletics.
“We organised a promotional campaign with fliers which tried to push the message that teaching the skills and principles of athletics applied to the other sports”, says Michael.
In other words; running, jumping and throwing are all skills which can be transferred equally to netball, football or rugby.
The campaign enjoyed some success as numbers at the club increased last year to 275.
However, the club recognised a need to do more.
Acknowledging that the general rise in enthusiasm for athletics would increase following the Rio Olympics, Michael says the club had its “Road to Damascus moment.”
“We had previously been essentially talking to parents by putting up fliers in supermarkets, cafes and school newsletters,” he explains. “Yet what we realised we needed to do was to talk directly to the kids.”
In conjunction with Athletics NZ Club Development Manager Cat O’Sullvan the club reached out to local primary and intermediate schools to build relationships.
Michael talked to the kids about athletics during school assemblies. He brought in a 7.26kg shot (the weight of the shot thrown by Olympic bronze medallist Tom Walsh) and asked them to guess the weight. He tried to engender enthusiasm for pole vault by getting kids to experience using ‘fly poles’ –pole vaults for younger children.
Athletics NZ offered support through the introduction of the Get Set Go programme both within the club and to the local feeder schools. Cat helped coach the Run Jump Throw programme to parents and she attended “Have a Go” days in an effort to further enthuse the kids.
The work put in by the club – in partnership with Athletics New Zealand – has reaped rewards. This summer the club has enrolled 330 kids - a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.
Suddenly athletics is fashionable and as Michael says “the buzz has returned.”
“The kids saw New Zealanders medal in Rio and the sport is cool,” he says. “The likes of Eliza, Tom, Nick and Valerie are all role models to the kids. I was getting 12 and 13 year olds come up to me after school assemblies wanting to do the shot, whereas in previous years they would want to play league and rugby. There is definitely a buzz. Athletics is seen as cool again.”
Te Atatu Athletic Club
The foresight and support shown by Athletics NZ has enabled Te Atatu Athletic Club to enjoy a sizeable boost in numbers competing on club nights.
After the club signed up to Athletics NZ’s Club Endorsement programme, the West Auckland-based club has been offered a range of tools to help its membership grow.
One of which has been the delivery of the Get Set Go programme into five local schools with all participating children receiving a certificate which provided information about the Te Atatu Club.
Club President Gordon Pope insists the initiative has had a positive impact on numbers.
“We have a loyal following in the local community and numbers in the past have been steady,” he admits. “This year, however, we’ve seen around 245 kids attend club nights, which is an increase of around 50 from last year.
“There is no way of completely gauging the increase, but I would say the greatest influence has been the Get Set Go programme because the biggest increase we have seen is in our four and five-year-old age groups.”
Te Atatu Club have been able to comfortably absorb the rise in numbers because of long-standing arrangement to use high school students as volunteers from the nearby Rutherford College.
Describing the volunteers as “worth their weight in gold,” Gordon is revelling in the current vibrant nature of the club.
“There is a lot of energy about the place and we are confident the numbers will hold,” he says.
Te Awamutu Athletic Club
Profiting from both the post-Olympic glow coupled with a well-structured set up the Te Awamutu Athletic Club is enjoying a significant spike in participation this summer.
Former Club President and now Head Coach Murray Green has been affiliated with the club for 19 years and he believes club membership is at or around record levels
“Normally we’ll have a lift in numbers post-Olympics, but it tends to dribble away in subsequent years,” says Green. “We might get a little bit of a push after a Commonwealth Games before another reduction, but this year on the back of New Zealand’s fantastic Olympics, we have definitely experienced a big rise.
“In the +10 age group we have doubled the numbers from around 20 to more than 40.
“Last year we had about 170 (members) and in our peak years we’d have 240 and we are somewhere back around that mark this year.”
The well run Waikato-based club have also benefited from enjoying success on the national stage. Their most high profile athlete is World University Games 800m athlete Katherine Marshall. Meanwhile, Leah Belfield swept to the 100m and 200m sprint double at last year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships. The club deserves credit for its developmental structure.
Yet as Green insists there is no greater thrill then turning up to club nights with a large amount of kids to work with.
“It obviously presents its challenges to have more athletes, but the great thing is with more kids involved the athletes enjoy the benefit of greater competition,” he says.