Some time ago we published Starting a Club by Richard Biddle – the original article has evolved since to include some more ideas for getting a club off the ground, and it’s been very useful to pass on to people who are considering taking the plunge. It really isn’t that hard, it just takes a couple of people with the enthusiasm to make it through the early days and a friendly venue. So, having got started, how do you keep people coming back for more?
Keep it regular
Once you’ve settled on a venue and a time that works, stick to it. It’s far easier to plan your social life around an event that recurs naturally, than one that jumps about all over the place – or worse, that has to poll its members each time to work out when the next good time to meet is. If, say, you pick the first Tuesday of the month then there will always be the odd potential member who has something else on every time – but people who have regular commitments on other nights will always be free. Which leads on to:
You can have too much of a good thing
You’re all set to go, how often do you want to meet? There’s a big temptation to go straight in to weekly meetings, after all, you want as many opportunities to meet potential members, right? Maybe not. People may not be able to turn out every week, after all, and the scenario you want to avoid is someone turning up and not finding anyone else there. People won’t go if they are concerned that they might waste an evening out not getting a game. Moreover, the more people that are present at the same time, the games you get and the more fun it is. If you schedule a monthly club night then you know everyone will make more of an effort to be free on that particular night; if it’s weekly then it’s a lot more likely that you’ll have very sparse nights from time to time, and while you as a new organiser might be sure you want to go every single week, it’s a big commitment to take on.
Be prepared for beginners!
We were all beginners once. When I first started out I appreciated better players taking the time to teach me the basics – through a mixture of instructive chats and beating me hollow. There are plenty of good books out there to learn rules and strategy, but it’s hard to learn just how fun backgammon is from a book; it’s essentially a social game and the best place to learn it is amongst other enthusiastic people. So make sure there is always someone who is ready and willing to put their game aside at a convenient point and get a newcomer started. You might just be starting a glittering career…
A regular tournament night adds some extra interest – and who doesn’t like having a trophy to show off? It doesn’t have to be expensive, particularly if it passes around from one winner to the next. There are loads of suppliers online, or why not get a bit inventive?
Finding a good format for a fun evening event is a balancing act – you don’t want people to be knocked out too fast and lose interest; you don’t want one overrunning match to keep everyone else waiting, and you don’t want to upset your venue (and your players who have work in the morning) by having games dragging on past closing time. My worst experience was having to try to hurry a final along with reckless cubes in order to be confident of catching the last train home from Oxford. A five-pointer can sometimes take an hour – so four five-point rounds could be a very long evening. Three-pointers might not be the experts’ cup of tea but they will give the organiser fewer headaches.
Simple knockouts aren’t great for the first round losers, and a double-elimination for eight people could last seven rounds. So how about a swiss or truncated round robin with a playoff final for the top two? There are online bracket generators to make the paperwork easy.
Finally, if you have the awkward situation of one expert and a lot of really inexperienced players, you could consider asking the expert to be the director for the night – it does kill the enjoyment somewhat if everyone feels the result is a foregone conclusion.
If you find you have too much of a divide between skilled players and beginners, pair them off together so that the beginners play but can turn to their partner for advice. Mixed skill level chouettes may also serve this purpose, but don’t force weaker players into the box against the pros, especially if there’s anything at stake!
Start a league or ladder
Leagues have become the new big thing recently. It doesn’t take a lot to organise and means people can play some games in their own time. Allow plenty of time per season so that games get played without people feeling too much pressure, and keep divisions small so that there’s plenty of turnover in promotion and relegation. Again, as organiser your job is to keep people enjoying themselves – winning Division 4 is a much more satisfying experience for a novice, than being stuck permanently in the depths of a huge Division 1.
And did I say, keep it fun?
You want people to enjoy themselves – people who don’t enjoy their experience won’t come back. So be prepared to intervene if you find anyone acting unsportingly, and make sure someone is familiar with all the rules to settle any disputes.
We’d love to hear what your clubs do to keep people returning – if you have any more ideas or interesting stories, please add them in the comments section!