Good Practice Within Sport: Learning from Oban Sailing Club

Like most sports, engaging and retaining juniors and young adults is a challenge in orienteering. One of the best ways to address this issue is to look at good practice within other sports and how this can be applied to orienteering. This article is part of a short series of articles that will look at good practices within orienteering and within other sports to determine ways we can engage and retain people in orienteering. The first case study within this series is looking at Oban Sailing Club.

Since the introduction of Oban Sailing Club’s non-competitive, games focused ‘Monday Mayhem’ session, they have improved the uptake of sailing by young people in and outside of Oban. We spoke to two members of the Oban Sailing Club who are also orienteers to help us make parallels to orienteering. 

At Oban Sailing Club ‘Monday Mayhem’ runs between April-September, and is all about having fun on the water for all ages. Meeting at the same time each week at Oban Bay: children, young adults and seniors participate in games on the water, whilst learning skills and gaining confidence. There is no need to book the session, it’s a matter of just turning up and scanning a QR to a google registration form. The session is £5 for non-member juniors and once having paid the £50 membership fee there is no additional costs in turning up for juniors with boats, wetsuits and buoyancy aids provided at no additional cost. By providing equipment and keeping costs low for juniors it  prevents cost being a barrier to a sport. Over the course of this Summer the session has attracted 120 people including visitors to Oban with around 15-18 people attending each week.

When the weather’s bad the session still occurs, however the session occurs in the clubhouse where they do indoor activities. Feedback from juniors and parents showed that having the session every week was important for creating a routine and ensuring they came along every week. Now in the Winter, the session occurs once a month but still regularly enough to maintain consistent attendance. 

Many participants at Monday Mayhem are from non-sailing backgrounds. Prior to Monday Mayhem, when the club had a competitive focus, sessions were attended mostly by juniors from sailing families.  The club used to struggle to recruit for their level 1 course for Juniors, however since Monday Mayhem and promoting the course through the parents app at the local high school it is now oversubscribed. 

Monday Mayhem has transformed the junior membership in the club, increasing the number of juniors engaged from a wider demographic of juniors. So, what can we learn from Monday Mayhem and how can we apply them to orienteering: 

Same time, same place, every week 

Feedback from Monday Mayhem showed Juniors and their parents enjoy having a weekly routine and attending the session at the same time and place each week. 

Having training sessions at the same time makes it part of the participants routine which makes turning up non-negotiable. It also enables juniors to make friends they look forward to seeing every week encouraging them to keep coming back. 

Applying the concept of the same place is a little bit tricker within orienteering particularly if your club covers a large geographical area. The South Yorkshire Orienteers had around 50 people turning up to their weekly coaching sessions which were in School Gym hall in the Winter and within a short distance of the School during the Summer months. Although the training sessions aren’t in the same place each week the date and time of coaching was consistent each week encouraging juniors to keep coming along. 

Emphasis on fun rather than competing 

Juniors attend sports sessions as they want to have fun. When Oban Sailing Club removed the competitive focus from their junior sessions to having fun the number of juniors engaged and the demographic of juniors engaged increased. In orienteering we can learn from this by removing the competitive focus presently placed on juniors. A high performance, competitive pathway should be available to juniors however, we also need a pathway which is centred around fun and encouraging a wider range of juniors to get involved. 

Hosting a games and fun focused orienteering session once a week at the same time and place would be the great way of doing this as shown by the Oban Sailing Club Case Study. Having the option of going to events at the weekend could then supplement the mid week training. Most juniors want to have fun and meet other juniors their age rather than compete.

Importance of communicating with parents 

Parents are very important to get involved as they generally take and sign up juniors for events and training therefore getting information across to them is very important. Oban Sailing Club advertised their oversubscribed level 1 sailing program via the parents app through the school. Information was therefore communicated directly from the club to parents. Traditional mediums such as flyers are much more likely to get lost and not reach the parents. Once parents are involved in the club, using whatsapp can be a great method of direct communication with them. 

From looking at the Case Study of Oban Sailing Club we can see how ‘Monday Mayhem’ has benefited junior membership in the club. Many of the practices used in Monday Mayhem such as the emphasis on fun and having a consistent session time and schedule has encouraged juniors with no background in the sport to try it. Through apply these teaching we will be able to engage a wider demographic of juniors in orienteering