Thursday, October 30, 2008

Advanced Thoughts for University Clubs

Some people around Brisbane will know that, while wearing a QUDA hat, I’m trying to lend a hand to the UQ Ultimate Club, in its interactions with UQ Sport (the university sports governing body).

As it turns out, an old friend of mine is now on the Board of UQ Sport, and I had a bit of a chat about things the Club could do. Some of these things are informing how we’re going forward at UQ, but some I figured were worth sharing to those of you wise enough to read this blog (strange as it is to think of Simmo, Tiger, Jangles or Alex as wise).

1. Book your fields for next year now (October/November), especially if they want more. Write them a letter. Write to the person a step or two more senior than the person who manages bookings. Make sure the letter ends with a question so they have to respond.

Offer to pay a deposit for the whole season or in advance, and borrow the money from your State Association. Sports Associations are often chasing money from disorganised clubs of students so you’re differentiating yourself by beating them to it. If they direct you towards a process for managing competing field bookings (eg, there’s a meeting once a year where its sorted out), involve yourself in that, but still do the extra stuff like an early letter. Its also worth going up the chain, as the further you go, the more permanent that person is going to be.

2. Email is cool, but make sure you're clear. Be formal if you have to, make sure your most important point is in the first sentence, and if you have more than one question or comment, number them. If they tell you something, always reply rephrasing the information in your own words, to make sure you both understand it.

Much Club/Sports Association email is unclear to the extreme. Make sure you’re using an email address that several of your Club members can read (eg but everyone should put their own name on any email they send, so that its clear to them and your Clubmates who is handling the ongoing issue. Following up in person can be really really valuable, particularly if they see you in good times, rather than just when there's a problem.

3. Detail how important your fields are. Explain to the fields management people (either in that letter, or elsewhere) whether your field needs/use are for training or League, and how many people will be using it, and how much they will be paying to use it.

If they have to make decisions about field use or closures, you’re giving them information so they can prioritise. If they’ve got a choice to close your field or someone else’s, changes are they’ll look at how many individuals this will effect, whether is stuffing up a League that people are paying for, or training that’s more easily missed, etc. to put it another way – most weeknight field use at Universities is training for weekend sports for a Club where player fees include training as a minor part, so they’ll assume Ultimate (which is normally weeknight league where people have paid a set amount per night to play) is the same unless you’ve told them.

4. Recruit staff members and postgraduates. Most Clubs focus their recruitment efforts on first year students at O-Day and eligibility for Uni Games, and that’s cool. But having people who have long term careers on campus can be very very beneficial in helping your Club maintain its basic administrative processes and contacts (once you’ve sorted out the banking or field booking or grant applications once, they’re easy to do again and again).

Find out if your Uni has induction sessions for new staff, see if there’s avenues for spruiking Ultimate at the staff club, staff carpark, maintenance staffroom, postgraduate society, etc. There are also many businesses and non-University entities located on campus - can you recruit from there too?

5. Maintain connections to your alumni. Universities and Sports Associations pay lots of attention to alumni, and Ultimate has now been on some campuses long enough that there are some senior and serious people out there who used to play on campus. Think about the fat old guys who keep rugby important on campus, even though the Rugby Club probably only has as many actual players as the Ultimate Club does. These people can help look out for your long term interests and network for you at senior parts of the hierarchy. Say thanks to them by inviting them to be the Patron of your Club and have them at big events like Finals or meetings with the Sports Association. Encourage them to remember their Uni days by always inviting them to parties (they probably can't come because they're busy with work or family, but its nice to be invited).

And of course, with VSU, most Uni Club can have non-students as members (where once they can’t). Are your alumni still playing in your league? Think about recruiting from the non-University community too, and maybe change your branding (like being something like Deakin Ultimate, rather than Deakin University Ultimate) or drop flyers around the Toowong/St Lucia neighbourhood promoting West Brisbane Ultimate rather than UQ Ultimate (still call it Uni Ultimate when talking to student though!)

6. Get the Sports Association involved in Ultimate itself. Many Sports Associations run social ‘lunch time sport’ as a money maker for the Association, or just to keep the facilities in use, or because they just like to have people playing something. If you think you can get a handful of experienced Ultimate players on campus around lunchtime, then go and see whoever runs lunchtime sport and tell them about Ultimate. Tell them its easier and cheaper to manage than sports like Touch or Volleyball because it doesn’t rely refs. Offer to make sure there’s an experienced player on each team (perhaps you can wangle that these Captains play for free).

If there’s court space, play indoors as it requires less people to get going, is easier for newbies, but perhaps most importantly, means the Sport Admin office staff see Ultimate and you and your experienced players every week - this visibility is super valuable (compared to occasional emails about far flung field bookings). Invite the Admin staff to your Club parties. Make sure that non-Uni Ultimate players know about it - they might want to come! And of course, this recruits new people to Ultimate for you!

7. Draw up a 3-5 year plan of some sort. Most Uni students are planning to be on campus for only a few years, and most Uni sports clubs are only thinking in terms of a one year horizon (in Ultimate, it tends to be “recruit at O Week, play weekly if possible, train a bit in Semester 2, then go to Uni Games”.) The result is typically the same old same old. If you’re a struggling Club, you’ll always struggle (even if you have an occasional good year because an amazing person shows up).

See if the Sports Association or your State Ultimate Association can give you advice on your plan, based on what they know about other successful sports or Clubs, and also what they can do to help. It doesn't need to be too fancy - a page of routine stuff to do every year, and a page of new things to do and build on each year if a great way to start.

If you’ve got staff members or alumni loosely connected to your Club, ask them to be the long term guardians, hanging on to it and pointing out each new year’s goals to each new Executive when they start.

8. Read the Sports Association’s Annual Report and Website. This can tell you what the Association’s priorities are, and how you might tailor your planning and contact with them. Use their language and wording and principles in your own plans and reports to build the bond.

Say for example they are focused on elite sportspeople (typically because it makes for easy media messaging). Make sure they know about the Australian Ultimate representatives that are (or have been) members of your Club. How many Dingoes and Firetails and Barramundis must have come out of Macquarie University over the years I wonder? Probably a lot more than they have Wallabies or Socceroos or Diamonds or whatever. Sure, there’s reasons for that, but the numbers can be headlines. Send them photos of these people to include in their next Annual Report. Make sure you claim alumni success as your own too.

Sports Associations tend to have their own PR/Communications people – email them about successes in Ultimate.

9. Have a sweet website. Really, there’s no excuse for a University Ultimate Club not to have a really sweet website.

Hope this helps someone, somewhere!


Simon Talbot said...

Excellent stuff there, JdR. I'll send a link out to other club execs for a read.

One thing I will add is just how powerful face-to-face contact can be. Regular (monthly or so) informal chats with your sports association helps them to associate a name and face with the club. New execs should go and introduce themselves to the relevant people

AlecD said...

following on from Simon's comment:

Establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your sports association makes your on-campus activities (admin as well as physical) happen more smoothly, and can also provide you with a number of opportunities i.e. that might otherwise have gone to other clubs.