Growth and Recruitment in Croquet
Concerns have long been expressed about perceived declining levels of competitive croquet across the country. This has often been attributed to a growth in 'social croquet', which is not confined to Golf Croquet but this variant certainly represents the greater part of the rise in non-competitive play.
In 2011 a Croquet Association Recruitment Working Party and the Marketing Committee recommended a change of direction. Federations introduced more local competitions and the Academies ran AC Introduction Courses for GC-only players. The Development Committee formulated a plan to introduce croquet into more universities. Croquet England emphasised the intellectual challenge of croquet in its literature. All of this had good effects but concerns continued to circulate.
In 2020 a Working Group under the Chairmanship of David Openshaw was set up to recommend an overall strategy for the development of competitive croquet in the domain; to recommend a specific strategy to revitalise Association Croquet and arrest its decline and to recommend a specific strategy to strengthen further the growth of Golf Croquet. They reported in March 2021 and the document is entitled Competitive Play Strategy - Final Report. We recommend that you have a look. It contains many challenging proposals for Federations and Clubs as well as for Croquet England itself.
The Role of Croquet England
Before 2011 the Croquet Association did not have a Growth and Recruitment Strategy as such. It was largely left to clubs to recruit as they saw fit, and the Croquet Association provided support.
Since croquet is essentially a competitive sport, it was agreed that the CA, and now Croquet England, should concentrate on promoting competition. Since 2011 existing clubs have grown their numbers substantially. The majority of growth has been because of the recruitment of social GC players. While this was a success - with many clubs finding themselves on a firmer financial footing - it raised other problems, one of which was the reduction in the proportion of competitive players.
Along with this decline, there was a decline in the proportion of club members choosing to join the Croquet Association as Individuals. The proportion diminished from 45% in 2001 to 27% in 2010. The Croquet Association was greatly concerned by this. Fundamental changes were introduced. Standard Associate subscription was made available to all club members without additional charge. Croquet England now has more than 7,500 subscribers - a reasonably large and increasing proportion of the active club players, who now number around 9,800 (calculated by reference to the reports made by clubs for the purposes of the levy). There are also (at the last count) 234 players who are direct Croquet England Associates and not members of a club.
Characteristics of Croquet Players
The 2011 paper went on to explore the characteristics of the people who might be recruited to play croquet and to suggest where they might be found. It was not intended to be a complete blueprint of how to implement a new Growth and Recruitment Strategy. However, it was intended that the strategy should influence the Marketing, Development and Coaching Committees, as well as how our sport was financed. It still has resonance in 2024.
Some of the ideas explored were:
- People in their 60s and 70s dominate croquet in this country; two-thirds are retired and less than 8% are aged under 40. There are few who do not believe that we need to recruit more younger people to the sport, not least because younger players tend to be more competitive.
- While every support should be (and usually is) given to schools offering croquet, this is a very difficult source of new youngsters to target proactively, with a disappointing return for those clubs which put in the effort. However, there is considerable enthusiasm for the idea of introducing croquet into more universities. In those where success has been achieved in the past the results have been spectacular. A large proportion of this country's top players first encountered croquet at either Oxford or Cambridge. Their "Cuppers" competitions (which receive modest sponsorship from Croquet England) have proved very popular and the numbers involved are little short of astonishing.
- In 2011 only 29% of Croquet Association Memberrs and only 10% of players with an AC ranking (a reasonable indicator of 'competitiveness') were female. Comparative figures for other major croquet-playing nations were: Australia - 65% and 30%, respectively, and for the USA - 45% and 15%. Attracting more females in this country would correct an under-represented segment of our market, and should be seen as a recruitment opportunity.
- Historically, croquet has most appealed to graduates and professionals. This is because, like bridge, backgammon, chess, etc., it is a 'mind game'. There was a consensus that too little emphasis was put on this and that the intellectual challenge of croquet should be emphasised.
- Many people take up croquet to satisfy their competitive instincts when they can no longer play other sports (especially sports for individuals, such as tennis and squash). This also suggests a degree of targeting when recruiting.
- Another strand that had been investigated was the potential to do more than create a universal demand for croquet and to take advantage of it just in the areas where there are strong clubs, but to target certain geographies. Some early examples of research using advanced computer mapping tools revealed certain 'croquet deserts', with no club. Some of this arid land has been tackled but there are still parts of the country without the benefit of a croquet club.
The Ways Forward Identified in 2021
- Modernise the game to reflect changes in lifestyle and changes in the ways that we can communicate
- Find ways of bringing together AC and GC players
- Learn from the successes in the growth of GC. AC can be made more attractive.
- Find out what players of different standards like about our game. Keep in touch with all levels of player. There is a great variety.
- Coach croquet to be fun and easy to learn - and that it has great tactical variety if that is what you want.
- Create a more demanding culture to improve our international performance.
- Reflect that AC is a simple game and the most popular form of the game in England.
- Introduce swift and significant change to arrest the serious decline in the number of AC players.
For more detail click on this link Competitive Play Strategy - Final Report