I travel a fair bit (not only for the EBU) and of course people I meet ask me what I do.
When I mention that I work for the English Bridge Union it often sparks a conversation about bridge. Twice in one week I chatted with people who would like to play more bridge but do not.
In the first case, the person used to be a keen bridge player but had drifted away from the game, being busy with work. He thought he might try to pick it up again and ventured to his local EBU club.
I do not know which club it was but he was thoroughly put off. He said it was made clear to him that bridge was played strictly by the rules and that any breaches would be properly adjudicated. I am not sure how the evening went after that, but he has no intention of returning.
In the second case, the person was a casual bridge player and would like to play more. She was thinking of joining a club but was worried that it would be too intimidating. I encouraged her to make an approach and see how it went.
My anecdotal evidence does not tell us how common these stories are, but I doubt they are all that unusual. What does this mean for bridge clubs that want to grow?
The first contact is hugely important. You may never get another chance. And the priority in that first contact is to make it apparent that newcomers are welcome, whether on their own or in a pair. Tell them how friendly the club is, how you (or someone) will make sure they can find their way around, that there are refreshments, that everyone enjoys their bridge and they will love it.
The welcoming culture has to pervade the club. This is hard to do. Some people are unintentionally gruff or come across that way at first. We don’t all have fantastic people skills. There is a lot you can do though, especially if you are the director or on the club committee. Keep your eyes open; if someone is new, make a point of meeting them, chatting, and ensuring there is nothing they are worried about. If you are directing, name the newcomers and say how welcome they are before play begins. If there is an infraction involving the new person (and yes, EBU clubs do play by the rules), direct with a friendly manner and explain that adjudication is about making the game fair for everyone and not (in the vast majority of cases) punishment for wrongdoing.
Whether one person or one pair does or does not join your club may not seem all that important. Think of it another way though. What is the significance of being known in your community as a friendly and welcoming place to play bridge? That is huge.
A cheerful bridge club: is that so hard? Illustration by Audrey Quinton of Thorpe Bay Bridge Club, Essex