The Decline of Bowling in Huddersfield

It is a sad fact that crown green bowling is becoming less popular in the Huddersfield area and beyond. This is supported by a study of the number of teams in 16 of our local leagues over the last 7 years. Of those 16 leagues, no less than 13 show a drop in team numbers.

Only one of those 16 leagues has actually had an increase in team numbers over that 7 year period. In fact they have had a 10% growth which is totally against the trend locally and nationally. The worst performing local league has had an 18% drop in team numbers over that same time period. In fact things maybe even worse than shown as the figures for a number of leagues for the 2020 season are missing so further reductions seem likely.

I say to these failing leagues what are you doing to halt the decline? Isn't it the responsibility of the officers of those leagues to be taking action to address the decline? Are they or do they have their heads in the sand totally ignorant of their responsibilities?

The table below is based on figures entered by the leagues themselves on to the Bowlsnet system. The top-performing league by some distance is the Huddersfield Veterans League as shown in the table below. So what are they doing that is different to result in such a positive outcome?

Click on image to enlarge

A cynical observer might say that a veterans League can grow as there are an increased number of pensioners around and many of them are more active than their predecessors. There is some credence in this but if it is that simple why don't all three Veterans Leagues listed above show an increase in numbers?

It is likely that the picture will be even blacker in 2021 as the impact of a barren 2020 comes home to roost. Recruitment of new bowlers is at an all-time low and many casual bowlers will have found different activities to occupy their leisure time during lockdown. It is widely anticipated that all team sports will suffer a drop in numbers next year and bowling was already in decline so the impact is likely to be even greater.

Which leagues are taking their responsibilities seriously and trying to address the reduction in teams that threaten the leagues continuing existence? Which leagues have their head in the sands assuming that life will just go on as always? Well it's clear that there can only be one outcome for such short-sighted management. Some of the numbers on the chart above look perilously close to a level that wouldn't support a league at all. Maybe there is a reason that these leagues are failing, maybe nobody cares enough to sort out the problem.

So why has the Huddersfield Veterans League outperformed all other local leagues over the past 7 years? What is the thing that differentiates them from other local leagues? I'll tell you of one thing that the Huddersfield Veterans League has that no other local league has - a fully active website! I'm not intimating that the full answer is that easy but a move to open, honest sharing of decisions and acts has served the veterans league well over recent years and the website has been an important element in delivering that approach.

The opportunity to improve communications with your bowling members should never be under-estimated. The added bonus of a monthly newsletter has also contributed to that open communications policy which makes all league bowlers feel that they are a real part of the league and are fully informed about what, why and how the league is doing every time it makes a decision.

The interactive nature of a good website also provides for, and encourages, bowlers to contribute to the debates over League policy and rule changes. This helps all parties in forming a way for development that will be fully explored and customised to give it a realistic chance of becoming successful.

So why don't more leagues own their own websites? Do they even realise that they are overseeing the demise of their own competitions? Some Leagues need to look more closely at the chart above and start to explain to their members how they propose to address this worrying trend. They can no longer rely on the fact that they have been around for 50, 75 or 100 years, that is history, that is no guarantee of immortality. Time to wake up if we are to pass on a legacy to our successors rather than be forever tainted as the generation that gave up on bowling.

Sales Pitch: If any Huddersfield-based League is looking to develop their own website then I have some good news for them. I've unexpectedly got some time on my hands nowadays and I have a plan I would like to share with you. Contact me

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