Building a Successful Club

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The King's Flight to the Scots
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Building a Successful Club

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

Hi guys,

It's taken me far too long to post this, but back during winter break, I interviewed a handful of club leaders on what they'd done to recruit and retain new players. The responses are recorded below. Thanks so much to Marianna Zhang, Sarita Jamil, Brian McPeak, Roxanne Ilagan, and Nick Karas for participating here - I'll note that a laptop screwup prevented me from accessing the recording of Marianna and Sarita's chat, but I've recorded what I have from them in note form. Sorry!

I hope this is helpful to people; if anyone else has experience building up a club and wants to add on, feel free to chime in!

1. How do you recruit new players? Activities fairs? Flyers? Outside events? What's your "pitch" for quizbowl?

Marianna: "Besides the usual activities fair stuff, we work through the Chicago house system and run mixers/social events with clubs that might be interested."

Sarita: "We make an effort to reach out to the high school quizbowl players in the freshman class. The "incoming Class of ____" Facebook group is helpful, too."

Brian: "I guess the overarching theme is just think about what would make you stay. If quizbowl is going to a room a few times a week and watching Jordan power CO questions, you're probably not going to stick around for long. If it's a game you play (on difficulty appropriate questions with people of similar skill!) and a group of people you hang out with who have similar interests in science and books and history and whatever, it might be pretty appealing to a freshman looking for intellectually curious friends in a big state school."

Roxanne: "We have a yearly activities festival called 'Festifall' and we have a table. Besides that, we really don't advertise our club that much. Since we host yearly high school tournaments, many high schoolers from the area are aware we have a team and host tournaments, so many find us themselves. We don't really have a 'pitch' to people, we just ask if they like trivia or shows."

Nick: "I think the most important thing is being persistent (and being friendly). I really try to emphasize the easier-level events to our newer/less-experienced members (Novice, ACF Fall, SCT DII, and MUT)- it also helps that we have been hosting most of those in the past two years. The less hassle of travel, the better. Most of our members play a couple of the easier events but never come to practice or do much else. I really try to stress that you don't "have" to study or come to practice- that everyone is free to come and join a team for fun regardless of experience. If they're a newer member on a team with newer members playing against teams consisting mostly of newer members then they'll be more likely to keep playing. In my experience, many people who are new to college quiz bowl have an (incorrect) notion that college quiz bowl is "too hard"- emphasizing that there are multiple college tournaments that are really not much harder than HS tournaments is important for retaining them."

2. When you have experienced players and novices in the same club, how do you manage the difference in skill so that the novices aren't scared away? If you run separate practices, how do you coordinate them so that both sides of the club still interact?

Marianna: "We practice twice a week, and we have two separate rooms that combine at the end for novices and experienced players. Experienced players can also study on their own, if there aren't enough spots."

Sarita: "Often we'll have experienced players read games for the first half, or write packets for submission or Penn Bowl to get the others a chance."

Brian: "Never forget that sitting around listening to better players answer all the questions is REALLY BORING for new people. At Maryland, our schedule was usually a packet or two of just tossups while people rolled in, then we'd split into two rooms based on ability, and then we'd come back together for a team game at the end before people leave. We also started doing mini-lessons on topics like "20th century philosophers" or "particles / standard model" or "African authors" where the people who knew a lot would talk and write stuff on the board and the newer interested players could ask questions. The response to this was always very positive-- the newer players were probably more engaged during this 10 minutes than any other time in practice."

Roxanne: "Fortunately we're able to use multiple rooms in the building that we practice in, so we separate practices. We usually all meet in one room and start practice together, but once there are a decent number of people for the novice room, they split."

Nick: "Let's say you have a club meeting where most of the people are experienced and a newer person shows up. What I always make sure to do is read them a packet of novice or fall (I never want to discourage them by having them trying to compete against experienced players on harder questions at practices). This past week at practice I knew none of the A team people would be coming (due to burnout from nationals) so I wrote to several of our newer members and said "this week I can read easier things to our newer members in preparation for MUT so you should come if you can!" and we got a bigger turnout."

3. How do you approach teaching new players how to write when they have to submit packets for tournaments?

Sarita: "Eric and the other experienced players will usually do a seminar on writing around October. We'll ask players who aren't experienced writers to submit 6/6, which we'll return to them with feedback, and they'll be able to use for packets in the future."

Brian: "In the first few weeks attendance is always pretty high but then people drop out a lot, so once we have a group of new people that we think is a little more committed, we say "New people, try to write 1/1 in whatever category you want for next week" and then we have them read their questions aloud and give feedback. Writing a high school tournament is a pretty good way of making your new players practice writing and learn something."

4. What outside social events do you host?

Marianna: "We do the usual, like movies and going out to eat, but we also mix it up a bit - sometimes we'll do Zumba, or Rock climbing, or a potluck."

Sarita: "Our club gets subsidies from the school for events like bowling, so see if your school allows for that. Dinner and a movie work just fine, though."

Brian: "The secret to this is that most people on the team will attend a lot of events but almost nobody will plan them, so if you're one of the older players on your team and you wish there were more team social events, make it happen. Also, make sure that your parties aren't just older players sitting around and talking about quizbowl people from other schools or who said what on the forums, but that's pretty boring for new players. We all love quizbowl gossip, but you can manage to talk about something else for a few hours."

5. How do you make your club a welcoming environment for women as well as men?

Marianna: "Having women reading in practice and leading the club helps a lot. Otherwise, just reaching out and not letting people feel excluded."

Roxanne: "As someone whose been involved in quizbowl for years, I've definitely had many instances where I was the only female around. Thankfully, this is something I'm used to and comfortable with, but I know that others may not be. While we don't do anything directed at the very few females in the organization, I feel like my involvement and Catherine Yang's involvement on the eboard for the past couple years has helped them recognize that it isn't a male dominated club and we're welcoming to everyone. The same goes to the men in our club, we don't do anything specific, but having both gender representation on the eboard helps (at least in my mind). Overall, we try our best to welcome everyone in our club by getting to know them better through practices or through traveling with them."

6. What logistical tips in getting funding, organizing travel, and hosting tournaments can you offer to newer clubs?

Sarita: "Collecting everybody's emails and inviting them to a central google doc is really important. That way you can track who's available to come to which events, who has to write a packet, etc. You can coordinate travel through there."

Brian: "I recommend not to have one person do it all. Then you're sort of stuck if that person graduates or isn't around. If you have freshman who seem interested in being involved, have them TD your highschool tournament or book your ICT rooms. The first time, they will need so much help that it's hardly worth it, but it's stuff they need to know for when you leave, and it helps people just joining to feel involved if they do something useful. Also emphasize that it's a skill that takes practice."

Roxanne: "We're kind of an odd (and very fortunate) case where we don't need to fundraise ourselves. We're under a blanket organization called the University Activities Center which approves our budget each semester. For teams that do need to fundraise, I'd definitely recommend hosting high school tournaments. They require quite a bit of organizing but they can really bring in a lot of money. For travel arrangements, I would designate this job to someone on the eboard. Our team consists of the the Quizbowl Triumvirate: Director of Internal Affairs (essentially the president), Director of External Affairs, and Director of Finance. When we travel, External usually handles signing up for tournament, while Finance books hotel rooms and requests rental cars through the university.

Although we are the Triumvirate, in recent years we created a position for Tournament Director, which is what I do. Logistically, I recommend creating a checklist a couple months prior. I've been trying to write a Tournament Director Guide for my successor and essentially this is what my checklist consists of:

~3 months prior:
Pick a date and time, research other events in the State to avoid conflicts
Book rooms ASAP
After date is picked:
Send a tournament announcement to coaches/teams
Post on the Forums
Create an initial field cap depending on rooms and anticipated staffers
Bug people to staff ASAP. Bug everyone to staff. Let everyone on the team know to leave that date free. (I like to emphasize the importance of staffing our high school tournament at our mass meeting in the beginning of the year)
Keep organized! Make an excel sheet with teams, buzzers, staffers, or anything else you need.

How are you using packets? Printed or Online? Make sure to make copies if using printed!
Have plans for lunch/breakfast for staffers. I order food ahead of time and ask staffers their preferences. I recommend also getting water bottles
Buy trophies! They're really not expensive and mean the world to some teams.
Book Prizes for top scorers
Send a logistics email for the tournament in the last week. Let them know when lunch is and the playoff setup. Always expect someone to drop (team wise and staffer wise). Make a backup plan
Make schedules: It's actually good to procrastinate this. I wait until the day before and will usually make a backup schedule in case someone drops."

Nick: "I send out a club email every week but most people don't read it so I usually write individual emails to people and inform them about upcoming tournaments ("We're hosting an upcoming easier-level college tournament and I invite you to compete!"). People will usually respond better if you send them an individualized email. If you write to someone and you don't hear back, write to them again (or if you don't hear from them via email try writing to them on facebook)."
Matt Bollinger
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Re: Building a Successful Club

Post by 1.82 »

It might seem self-evident, but one great way to ensure club success is for the members of your club to be friends. This isn't to say that they need to or should already be friends outside of quizbowl, but people are much more likely to come to practice if they know that practice will be where they see their friends. Furthermore, if people see that their friends are getting better at quizbowl, then they in turn will be inspired to get better at quizbowl, fostering a virtuous cycle. Regular attendance at practice promotes social cohesion and gets you club members who are eager to play and staff tournaments. Nobody wants to be droned at for a couple hours as they sit among strangers, and if that keeps happening they won't come to practice or to tournaments; it's incumbent on all members of the club to get acquainted with new people so that that doesn't happen. Last year I probably wouldn't have stuck with quizbowl if Brian and Dan hadn't made me feel welcome.

That said, it's easy to get discouraged by attrition; maybe thirty new people show up to your first meeting but a month later only five of them are still coming. That's fine; collegiate quizbowl isn't for everyone, even among the sort of people who express interest in it. When you consider the average size of a club, getting a team's worth of new players every year is more than enough.
Naveed Chowdhury
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Re: Building a Successful Club

Post by Cheynem »

I'd just say that in terms of "social stuff," I would suggest three things:

1. Separate it from quizbowl. Don't just hang around and read packets or even connect it to "only hanging out after practice or tournaments" (obviously all of those things are fine). I think this is healthier.

2. Being simple is fine. A lot of things the team did in 2011-2012 were just things like playing board games, watching a movie in someone's apartment/dorm room, etc. We did some excursions (we saw Uncle Vanya and The Birds, and I was delighted that the former was one-clued by a team member at practice afterwards), but they were cheap and on campus.

3. Avoid the party atmosphere. By which I mean it's okay to party certainly, but you don't want that being ALL of your social life. I tend to detest the drinking and loud music aspect of parties and I know it's not for everyone. You need to have some events that appeal to all.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger
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