Avoiding greedily snaffling the low-hanging fruit

Sporting clubs are easy pickings for health promotion. They are a captive audience of collective individuals vaguely interested in health and well-being. They are the obvious choice for the latest intervention, program or campaign and provide great bang for buck – but we need to consider when to give clubs a break from being the target.

And you thought low hanging fruit would be easy

Sporting clubs are amazing places – community hubs filled with engaged individuals and plucky volunteers keen to make the world a better place one week at a time. Great venues for social change, for community engagement, for communicating to the masses. Sporting clubs bring people together in a way that many other organisations can not and they allow individuals from varied backgrounds to connect and enjoy their time together. And for forever and day, because of these facts – sporting clubs are the most obvious low-hanging fruit for health promotion programs to target. I should know, I’ve one it several times and been on the receiving end as well.

The problem with targeting sporting clubs is not targeting sporting clubs – but the manner in which you engage them and the long-term sustainability of whatever you are hoping to achieve. One-off funding and sponsorship that gets a club to sign up to a program might sounds great; but I’ve been in many a club that has a health promotion banner tucked behind the bar, or worse, on the wall next to an sign supplied by Big Alcohol. Your Great Health Promotion Message paired with Bush Chook. If there is no ongoing engagement with clubs to keep them on track – a season or two after the funding has ended, once a new committee or batch volunteers rolls in, the message can be very quickly lost or discarded.

If your program does not adequately engage the very fabric of a club – it will not survive long-term.

You can not bring a new idea in to a club and hope it will live on once you’ve left. You can not expect completely under-resourced volunteers to implement a new program or idea (on top the other programs they already run) if you don’t build their capacity. You can not expect clubs to champion your cause if they don’t believe in it and see the clear benefit. Your idea or program might be amazing and really well funded and make everyone in your industry nod with approval – but if Beryl who runs the canteen doesn’t really give a stuff because your idea is going to make her already hard and long day a bit harder and longer – she isn’t going to get on board long-term. Sure, she might do it to help the club secure the funding – but she will outlast your program. Like the last one. And the one before that.

If your program does not ingrain and endear itself to the sporting club champions, you are in trouble.

You ain’t no Gordon.

Sporting club volunteers want to believe in your programs. They want to run them. They really do (well, maybe not Beryl, but someone can sideline her long enough to put up the signs – Geoff behind the bar is trickier to move). The thing is – many sporting clubs are dying. Volunteers are so thin on the ground that they struggle from year to year to find people to do the things that actually HAVE to do. The administrative workload of running a small business for free eventually takes its toll and clubs need more work like a hole in the head.

The next five years are crunch time for clubs.

People don’t want to volunteer to do what has to be done to run a club these days. From ensuring insurance is appropriate and paid, securing coaches, finding players, organising registrations, paying fees, affiliations and memberships to State sporting bodies, organising umpires and game-day helpers, buying uniforms and merchandise, approaching and engaging sponsors, finding or training medical personnel, dealing with internal club politics and regional league or association issues – there is so much to do. Something as simple as putting a team on the park for a weekend requires determination, grit and a bloody minded will to achieve in the face of adversity. And a laptop with a 4G dongle, because everything has be done on a computer these days.

Did you bring the oranges?

Club volunteers are under the pump. Something as critical as becoming the coach of the under-16s footy team requires a full day of face-to-face (unpaid) training with an accompanying online module and work-book; as well as yearly re-registration and proof of competency. All clubs in WA are required to engage with the local department’s own club development program, an online toolkit and management system that is a great idea, but takes huge effort to really sink your teeth in to. If the club has a bar, everyone needs RSA training and you need a trained manager and need to run your cash bar to high standards around documentation and resourcing. Canteen staff are being recommended more an more to do food-handling courses and their are issues around food-preparation and local government. Sometimes food that needs no prep (hot chips and some pies) is just easier than an amazing quinoa salad – especially if your canteen is a bit dodgy. Never mind the fact that you may not have enough time to prepare healthy food options because you picked up the canteen supplies on the way home from work, and are running the canteen in between running water for the juniors and playing your self.

Sporting clubs are struggling to keep up with what they have to do. Volunteers are also players or umpires. There is never enough help. And even getting players is getting harder and harder as our lives get busier and busier – and more interesting options become available. Mountain biking, surfing, trail running, kayaking, mauy thai – all really interesting physical activities that do not involve ensuring 40 other people are ready at the same time (and all are things I now do instead of organised team sport). Plus, you also won’t be asked to volunteer in the canteen after your jog or have to join a committee. People are looking to do sport that fits their lifestyle. Blocking out a large chunk of Saturday to play and then run a canteen for the greater good doesn’t appeal.

Can someone take over in the canteen? I need to go home…..

Does this mean we do nothing? We leave clubs alone? Let sporting clubs run amok. Let them serve wild boar on a bed of hot chips with mead? Well, no – but if you want to set up a program that engages sporting clubs in health promotion – you need to ask yourself a few hard questions first:

  • Is your program going in on top of existing programs? Perhaps long term programs? If you think a club that already runs two programs is ripe for the picking because they are already engaged in health and social change and another wouldn’t hurt – consider what capacity is left in that club?
  • What has been rolled out already in that region?
  • What hasn’t worked or why didn’t it work long term?
  • What real connection does the club have to your program beyond the carrot or money or resources at the start?
  • Do clubs actually believe in your message, or do they want the cash?
  • What is the real human cost of your program? On the volunteers that have to implement it? How easy have you made it for them?
  • Do the local club development officers support your program? Is their department on board?
  • How much does society as a whole care about what you are selling? Have you done the ground work of outlining the problem in a real and relatable way that clubs have already engaged with? Basically, are you answering a need, or providing a solution to a problem no one knows they have?
  • Have you over or underestimated the clubs you are dealing with? No two clubs are the same, and the volunteers within a club drive its direction and motivation.
Consider how your program will meet these areas before you inflict it on unsuspecting volunteers

Once you’ve answered those questions and put yourself in the shoes of a busy parent juggling responsibilities – then you can probably get your program going. However, don’t forget to continually re-evaluate your program implementation and how it is engaging with the volunteer club workforce. Don’t be naive. Don’t be short sighted. Don’t preach. Definitely don’t preach. There is nothing worse. And for goodness sake, don’t think your program will survive without curation, care-taking and support. Unless it really is amazing. Then you might be lucky.