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THE
NEW ZEALAND
REPORT
by Steve Jones - NZ Correspondent

A PROFILE OF THE WRITER
New Zealand Coat of Arms

Tackling the sport's ultimate
challenge at the club level: recruitment

The problems of membership growth and renewal are similar in most of the developed croquet-playing countries. The sport is complex, learning it takes time and practice, and even at multi-lawn clubs, court space is often dominated by veteran players, and newcomers feel like "second class citizens." But now there's a more compelling reason than ever for local clubs to get serious about membership growth: financial pressures from the municipal governments who pay the bills for croquet and want to see the lawns filled with the local citizenry.
At this time of year, many clubs in New Zealand are in the throes of recruiting new members. Not that membership is in a crisis state, but growth is certainly required to maintain and indeed improve Croquet's status and image.

New Zealand currently has just on 4000 Croquet players spread over 140 clubs. There are about 500 lawns for these players, which works out to approximately 8 players per lawn. This is obviously a very low figure, and there is ample room to increase it. One figure bandied about suggests that 22 players per lawn is a good number. I think this may have originated from the local district Councils who base it on 2 cricket teams playing each other on a sports ground. This figure is still possibly a little low. (I understand that there is a one-lawn club in America with a membership of 90!) With an organized committee, it should be reasonably possible to accommodate perhaps 50 players per lawn.

This means that with 500 lawns, NZ should be targeting a total of 25,000 members. Of course with that many members more clubs and more lawns would undoubtedly materialize and the whole sport could spiral to the dizzy heights of the majors.

Why does Croquet need more players? In New Zealand, many clubs are owned and maintained by their local Council. On the one hand this is an excellent state of affairs as all the maintenance, lawn cutting, top-dressing, etc, is carried out by the Council leaving club members to get on with what they enjoy - playing Croquet. However, there is a downside and that is that Councils are now very much into the "user pays" philosophy. In previous years, clubs used to pay Councils a pittance for the work that was carried out. This is now rapidly changing, and the new rates are based on the number of players using the facility. Ironically, the more players that can be crammed into the same playing space, the lower the Council's charges become. Croquet, with their low membership, can therefore expect to pay heaps.

NEW MEMBERS MEAN MORE FUNDING, BETTER FACILITIES, FINER PLAYERS

Another, less mercenary reason for attracting more members is the influx of new blood. With an unchanging membership, play and attitudes may become stagnant. An influx of new players changes all that, and the club is likely to be healthier for it. In addition, more players will lead to increased funding, better facilities and ultimately better players and teams.

The biggest question, of course, is the age-old one of how to attract new players. In my own association (Wellington), clubs are having great success in recruitment using a number of different methods. There is the schools program which I mentioned in the "New Zealand Report #1". This has not yet produced a large number of new recruits, but it is hoped that this will have a cumulative effect in future years.

DISPLAY ADVERTISEMENTS AND SOCIAL EVENTS DRAW CROWDS

Petone Central Croquet club hold an annual Business House Croquet competition where teams of four are invited from local companies and organizations to compete against each other playing Golf Croquet. The competition takes place after work and, with the beer and sandwiches provided, participants really seem to enjoy themselves in a relaxed yet competitive atmosphere. Waimarie Croquet club has recently placed adverts in the local press both for their beginners classes and for social croquet sessions where the emphasis is on participation for all. This year the advertisements were not small, unexciting scraps hidden at the bottom of a column but large and eye-catching. The result was exciting: 23 beginners turned up on the first day and almost as many for the social Croquet sessions.

Wellington Croquet Club has been holding social Croquet sessions on Friday evenings for two years. Anyone is welcome and the session is popular. A glass of wine or a beer leads to a relaxed atmosphere and people can play or not, as they like. Usually one-ball Croquet is played (with an assortment of different rules!) and there are plenty of established players around to help beginners. Last year, the whole of the "Sport Wellington" team (which administers sport in the Wellington region) turned up one Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The mayor of Wellington is due to put in an appearance later this season.

BEGINNERS NEED TIME AND ATTENTION FROM VETERAN PLAYERS

Almost as difficult a problem as attracting people through the gate is how to keep them coming and turn them into club members. For this, the attitude of existing club members has to be right. Beginners must be treated gently and with patience. They require a lot of time and attention from all the current members. Unfortunately, some members seem to want all the lawn space for themselves and resent any influx of new blood. These are difficult people to deal with but there are ways! Short of impaling them with the peg and stuffing them through rover, giving these people a specific job to do towards recruitment often does the trick. Beginners competitions, social functions and coaching are all important to get prospective members to stay put.

ONE-BALLING VERSUS GOLF CROQUET

Finally, what sort of croquet should beginners be playing? Clearly, starting them off with the regular game is bewildering and indeed physically and mentally impossible for most beginners. They have to be shown the skills first, but this can be boring and lead to their disillusionment. Many clubs play Golf Croquet first. Personally, I don't really believe in this, as they are not getting the true picture of what Croquet is all about: They are not even playing Croquet, as there are no Croquet shots played in Golf Croquet. Having said that, any alternative game which is easy to learn and play is better than nothing as it relieves the drudgery that beginners often encounter when being coached.

Much better, however, is 1-ball Croquet, where each side has one ball each but otherwise plays standard Croquet with roquets, croquets and continuation shots. All the aspects of regular Croquet are then covered, while the game remains simple enough to be played by almost any beginner after a minimum of prior instruction.

Merry Christmas, everyone, from Down Under! I'll be practicing hard for the Nationals in January in Auckland.

--Steve Jones


 
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