Report by Pauline Tryner (SYO)
Several years ago, as a result of declining membership, South Yorkshire Orienteers (SYO) made the decision to focus on junior development and so our Saturday Series of monthly events was born.
The series has been hugely successful in increasing participation and year on year the numbers of participants has steadily grown. 3-4 years ago the focus switched to developing the club offer with the aim of encouraging the juniors and their parents to be active club members. This led to a huge jump in membership in the first couple of years and now membership is slowly increasing. We currently have 132 juniors which makes up approximately 42% of our membership (compared to 24% nationally).
Alongside the monthly newcomer series, we offer a weekly club night and monthly coaching sessions. The newcomer events, club night and coaching sessions all have an offer for adults so that families can take part in orienteering together. We also run a monthly evening event with a social, a summer BBQ event and an annual awards lunch alongside the normal regional and national events. The Peter Palmers and Yvette Baker Trophy (YBT) are essentials on the calendar and we work very closely with the YHOA Junior Squad so as to develop our older juniors as quickly as possible.
We have learnt that getting parents orienteering means the juniors go to more events, are more likely to travel to major championship races and are more likely to volunteer at events. However, families that just want to compete locally and juniors of non-orienteering parents are still very welcome and are encouraged to participate at whatever level/frequency they want to. Orienteering is a complicated sport so we have found regular communication about the different competitions and training opportunities is very important. Also key is to keep inviting juniors and their parents to take part in specific competitions, socials and training – a personal invite often spurs the unsure into taking part.
As a club, the biggest challenge we face is getting enough volunteers to put on all the activities and events we want to provide. We do find each year that a reasonable number of new members don’t renew due to a variety of reasons. Not everything works all of the time so we try to evaluate what we are doing on a regular basis and evolve the club offering. After a long period of focusing primarily on families, we are now looking to develop membership in the 21-35 age group and over 60s.
Interested to read more about the new British Orienteering youth strategy "Every Junior Matters"? Find out more here.