How come big players are often raised in small clubs? It turns out that small clubs have several benefits for recruiting and retaining children and young people in the business.
The importance of the place of residence and the training environment for successful children’s and youth sports has engaged more and more researchers in recent years. Extensive international research has, for example, showing a link between locality size and the development of athletic ability.
It turns out that relatively few successful athletes come from the largest cities. More common is that they come from places with fewer inhabitants, but still so large that there is a full range of sports.
In the national study “Good sporting environments,” we focused on large, elite-oriented, and resourceful clubs (not least in ice hockey), with staff employed at both senior and youth levels.
We have now studied 18 ice hockey associations with more limited resources, but which have shown good continuous activity to recruit and retain children and young people in the activity. It turns out that the small club has several advantages when it comes to recruiting and retaining children and young people in the associations.
Long-term Perspective and Flexibility
In a good development environment, young boys and girls are allowed to develop based on their conditions. Therefore, flexibility and long-term thinking are particularly important in activities for children and young people.
The long-term perspective should characterize both training sessions and matches and include everyone. The study’s interviewees emphasize the importance of teaching the basic skills in their sport and laying the foundation for a lifelong interest in young players.
Here, smaller associations in small towns have a great advantage. The activities are often more informal than in large clubs from larger cities.
It creates a more inclusive environment. Smaller associations are more flexible about how and when to receive children who want to start playing, how the association conducts training, and so on.
The small club recruits young people of different ages, not just children aged 6-7, which is otherwise common.
Players also often train together in mixed-age groups, which gives the younger ones an opportunity to meet older club mates and be inspired by them. Anyone who wants can also be part of several training groups and thus train more often.
Some of this flexibility is certainly supported by the fact that the small club usually has relatively small cohorts. But it may still be appropriate to consider whether even larger associations can learn lessons from these success factors from associations with more limited resources.
Development Before Results
The small club has a culture of making it easier for young people to do other sports instead of making it difficult for them. A permissive environment also encourages those who want to move on, for example, to larger clubs.
In the interviews with association representatives, it emerges that there is a pride in being involved in educating good players who then succeed in other associations.
Matches are seen as part of player education and long-term development – development focus takes precedence over results focus. Therefore, you more often avoid toppings and try to adapt team selections to the level of the opponents.
Proximity and Security
Another obvious advantage of a small town is the proximity to a sports facility. It provides greater opportunities for spontaneous sports outside of organized training. Some of the clubs have, for example, started spontaneous sports-like activities after school.
In the smaller town, the association becomes a natural meeting place. It creates a club environment where everyone knows each other.
According to the association representatives we interviewed, a safe and calm environment gives good sports results and means that more people remain in the association.
They believe that in an environment where others know everyone and where everyone can participate and train and play, you have time to develop at your own pace without risking being left out of the team.
Easier Leader Recruitment
The closeness between the members also means that the coaches’ interaction and exchange of experience take place informally, continuously, and naturally. Scheduled coach meetings are rarely needed.
Leadership recruitment, which is a major problem for many of the country’s sports associations, is usually easier in smaller towns. For example, it is common for former players to return as leaders. Sometimes you can even end up in a situation where you have too many leaders, the people we interviewed testify.
Vulnerable to Change
In several successful small associations, clear and elaborate target documents promote long-term work. However, it is lacking in some who work long-term and well-thought-out. But these associations are heavily dependent on several driving leaders. There is a great risk that the business will be affected when the leaders are eventually replaced.