Bridge clubs need to attract new members, for lots of reasons which you will find explained elsewhere on this site. Why though does one club grow while another struggles? There are many factors (some of which are beyond anyone’s control) but one which bears examination is whether a club is an attractive one for a newcomer to join.
I may be a little biased, but I consider bridge players to be a friendly bunch in general and that most clubs give visitors and newcomers a warm welcome. Nevertheless, it is also true that a bridge club can be a little intimidating. Bridge is an exceptionally absorbing game that demands skill and concentration, and chatter at the table is difficult since it disturbs others and can give away information. This means we need to work hard to create an atmosphere in which every members feels welcome, from novice to expert.
How do we do this? Here are a few ideas.
First, the role of the director in this is critical. The director sets the tone of a club session. If there is a new player or pair, it goes without saying that the director should make sure they know the names and make them welcome in their announcement just before play begins.
Second, it is great if clubs celebrate the achievements of every member rather then just their top players. For example, the EBU’s National Grading Scheme shows not only the percentage achieved by each pair in a session, but also by how much they exceeded or fell short of expectations. You can see this by double-clicking a session in My EBU. This makes it easy for clubs to highlight not only the top scorers, but also those who most exceed their expected result.
Third, it is worth making an effort to make club management committees inclusive, seeking a balance between male and female, novice and expert. If the committee is entirely composed of top players, it is not surprising if the club inadvertently gives the impression to newcomers that it is only for bridge experts. People often learn bridge in middle age or later and have rich work experience; clubs can benefit by bringing them onto the committee and learning from them.
At the EBU, we have noticed that it is often the clubs with the highest bridge standards that struggle most to maintain or grow numbers. It is a dilemma because of course we love to see highly skilled players and for members to improve their game. On the other hand, we also want to see more people enjoying and benefiting from bridge which implies clubs with a diversity of playing ability. In the end, we believe it is not only possible but desirable for clubs to provide for members at every level.
Giving a warm welcome to novices is one of the secrets of a happy and healthy bridge club.