In this article, I will follow up on some of the issues discussed in the first article on the subject, using some of the input I have got from various people through emails or discussions.
Please forgive me if some of your input is not mentioned, it is an ongoing process, but all your comments are and have been very welcome and valuable to me.
I will give an overview of what is happening on some of the important topics, what I think is important to do, my idea of how to do it, and my thoughts about who can help doing it.
Most NBO’s are concerned about fewer members, and the rising age of those members left.
Many things have been and are being tried in different countries, with more or less success, some of the most popular being:
- Youth and school projects
- “Getting new members” campaigns, aimed at the 60+ group
- Teaching and information material on bridge
However, the image is not really changing. It seems to me that the average non-bridge playing person still thinks of bridge as the same old game for old people.
Why is this, and can anything be done to speed up the process?
The main reason (in my opinion) is that it is very tough for the NBO’s to work on image change. This is not unnatural, because when you hire people for your NBO, you probably don’t look for marketing competence as first priority.
The unlucky thing about this is that today, when we want to market and sell a product (bridge), it has to be done through social media and online marketing, and not through magazines, websites and emails. This change of “marketing strategy” is not easy, and the bigger the organizations, the longer it will take.
As in the first article, I will look at this from the school bridge perspective, as this is where I currently spend my time. I think that the possible solutions to many of the challenges here will also help the “older” game, i.e. the game as a whole.
I have now worked full time for more than one year trying to introduce the game to young people, mostly through school bridge projects in more than 50 schools, and have also tried to find out what is going on in other countries.
Even in some of the most successful countries regarding bridge in the schools (Poland, Israel, France, Netherlands) there are some very common challenges in order to be successful.
I have picked three things:
- Keeping the young people in the game, or the follow-up challenge
- Parent backup and support
- Bridge in Media and Social Media, or the image challenge
Keeping the young people in the game
When you have succeeded in teaching bridge to a group of kids, you will find that quite a few of them think this is fun. Unfortunately, two weeks later, most of them have forgotten all about bridge.
The challenge is that today kids have so many options and possibilities, that it is very tough to keep their interest and focus.
The Key here is to build a scheme to pick up the kids and give them the opportunity to play with other kids keeping both the social and the competitive element intact.
Today’s parents have a lot of influence on what their kids are doing in their spare time.
If you want the kids to join more bridge events, you need parent backup (transportation, money, calendar space).
You are competing against activities like Soccer, Tennis and whatever is popular in your country.
If the parents do not understand what bridge is, how can you expect them to tell their kids: “Go take some tricks” instead of “Go score some goals”?
This might be possible if we are able to change the image of bridge to something like
- Positive influence on young people
- Accepted for and by kids
- Understood by grown up non-bridge players as being good for young people’s development.
Bridge in the Media and on Social Media
This is the main challenge, and the most important thing to work on, because it has direct impact on the other two challenges.
Everybody is fighting to get attention in the Media. Millions of dollars are spent on marketing and communication. It is no wonder that it is hard get our good bridge stories in the Media, but it is by no means impossible.
If we can succeed with this, we are starting to set the scene for a general comeback for bridge. We all know it is the best game ever. Every time we teach 25 new kids to play, they love it. We just have to make sure everybody else knows this as well.
Handling the Challenges
Keeping the young people in the game
This is a tough one, because the kids have so many possibilities today. If you teach bridge to a class, I expect that something between 10 and 25 percent think it is fun, and might want to keep on playing. But how do you give them the opportunities?
- Inter school competition
- Playing against other kids in NBO tournaments
- Playing on the internet
- Playing in or just after school
- Social bridge events
All of these options need many resources from you, because usually there is nowhere to play and nobody to arrange the games and teach.
Nevertheless, your bridge teaching project is not really a success if you cannot provide them with possibilities to keep on playing. You might argue that you have given them an idea of what bridge is, and it is their own choice if they want to play more, but the fact is that you lose too many if you don’t do anything.
Our youth bridge group in Denmark are spending a weekend in August to try to find solutions to this challenge; we will keep you informed if we find THE solution.
When you make bridge introductions or lessons for kids, make sure to give useful information to the parents. What is bridge about, Why are we doing this etc.
In addition, make sure that information on follow-up activities get to the parents (preferably the mother, she often runs the family calendar).
When you plan bridge events outside school, try to figure out what time is most convenient for the families, as you want to make it easy for them to join.
A nice bonus - if we get the parents interested in bridge, we have potential new members in our bridge clubs.
And – get the good stories about bridge out in the Media, we want the parents to understand why bridge is great for their kids.
The important thing here is to appreciate that parents run their kids calendars. It is not good enough to persuade the kids to come to your bridge camp next weekend; if the family is booked to Uncle Bens 50 year’s birthday, that’s where the kids are going.
Unless - of course - mom is convinced, that bridge is great for her kids.
Bridge in the Media and on Social Medias
Create the good stories.
Journalists love stories with kids doing something with their brains. Make sure the story is completed (or almost), and take many nice pictures. The chance of getting your stuff in the local newspaper or TV is much greater if the journalist does not have to do too much work.
Make sure the words Concentration, Communication and Cooperation are included. These are things anyone like their kids to excel at.
Define target groups
Your target groups are primarily
- Young people. When kids hear about something new (bridge), they expect to find information on it immediately on their smartphone.
- Schools and other educational institutions
- Companies, potential sponsors
Boost bridge on the Social Medias
This is tough, and you will often need professional assistance.
As an example, along with our homepage www.skolebridge.dk, we have created a Facebook group, Twitter profile and Instagram profile.
We are also working on a YouTube Channel, and for now we are running things ourselves, but are looking for competent help.
The hard parts of dealing with the social Medias seem to be:
- Relevant content, not too much and not too little
- Reaching your target groups
Regarding content, we are looking for small videos on bridge. What is bridge about, short teaching videos and so on. There is some material out there, but it can be hard to find, and usually you need help from someone who can edit for you.
Who is supposed to do all this
As mentioned, it can be hard for the NBO’s to handle this, because their main job is to take care of the clubs and members. Who then, can work on some of these challenges?
The Bridge World is full of very capable people, and many of these can make a difference.
Most places, the successful bridge recruitment programs are created and run by volunteers, who do it because they want to help their club, teach their kids or simply share their loved game.
The NBOs can support these volunteers either financially and/or by helping with the marketing and provide the teaching material.
Depending on the Club structure in your country, the clubs can help with playing sites, materials and arranging events.
Retired (from work, not bridge) bridge players:
This group has a lot of potential, and are usually very willing to help when you roll out teaching programs. Many have time and resources, and think it is fun to help kids learning bridge. Be careful to plan your activities well, and give all useful information to your helpers. If the project is well planned it becomes a success, and your team of local “helpteachers” will be happy to step in again.
What can YOU do ?
If you are reading this, it is probably because you care about bridge in one way or another and the thing you can ask yourself is: Can I contribute with something?
All of us can help, sometimes it is just not obvious how, but maybe you can see yourself in one of these groups:
”Just” a bridge player:
Help find and tell the good stories. Whenever you experience something exiting, tell about it. To your friends, the local press (always looking for local stories), Social Media, or if you do not know what to do with it, send it to me. Pictures and videos are very important.
Bridge players with some sort of school contact:
Talk to the school, if you do not feel like doing it yourself; just say that you will establish contact to someone (your local club) who will then take over. However, creating the link is very important and valuable.
Play cards with your kids. Not necessarily bridge, but any card game. Kids love to play cards, and think it is fun. When you (or others) introduce bridge to your kids, it will be very natural for them to try it if they are familiar with card games. If possible, play with their friends too. Remember the social element of card games is one of the main reasons people play cards. It is much easier for kids to play bridge if some of their friends also play.
Compared to the money spent every year on bridge pro’s, the amount needed to help promoting bridge is pretty small. Bridge sponsors could consider supporting image or youth projects in their local area. Financial support for Marketing and content production is also valuable.
Professional bridge players:
This is also important for you. Of course you have to think about your next pro-job, but if bridge does not improve its image, the sponsors might look elsewhere, and you will have to find another job. That may be as a bridge teacher in a school, which is pretty fun, but only materializes if we succeed with improving the image of bridge.
Try to find and support the volunteers in your country. Mostly by helping with marketing, production of material and providing platforms for knowledge sharing.
In short, find out what YOU can do for the game, and get it done. It is a scientific fact that helping is more satisfying than being helped.
Does it cost a fortune ?
Lots of things can be done by volunteers. Our “Danish School Bridge Organization” is basically run by volunteers, but as things grow you need to be able to pay for bridge teachers or at least their travel expenses.
Online marketing is not free. You can start cheap enough, but as the project gets bigger, you need a marketing budget in order to keep updated.
Some NBO’s can help a little bit, but basically you need to think about how to raise money for your image projects.
As we change the image of bridge, and get the stories about why it is good for young people out there, it will be easier to find sponsors, because more companies want to be associated with “the good story of bridge”.
Until then Foundations and private sponsors might help you get started.
Plus... it's free!