Young blood in our sports clubs

Alex Ford

IT’S almost a stereotype at most local sports clubs — the bunch of old blokes at the back calling the shots.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Some clubs have begun looking to the future, and a wave of people under 30 have taken up executive roles and leadership positions.

The Gippsland Times spoke to three young people who have accepted more responsibility and are looking forward to keeping their clubs sustainable into the future, with new ideas and fresh perspectives.

All three — Sale Golf Club captain Harrison Savage, 26, Maffra Tennis Club treasurer Jake Weir, 23, and Stratford Cricket Club president Lachie Dowd, 23 — discussed the importance of respecting their elders, while also growing the clubs into the future.

Sustainability, in members, sponsors, and experience, was the key focus.

Savage, who has previously played golf for Australia, said he decided to step-up to give back to the club that supported him.

“It was time some of the younger generation led from the front, and I was lucky enough to get voted in,” he said.

“There’s some new, fresh ideas, and I don’t think everyone will like it, but I think that will really help our club.

“Some of the older guys, eventually it comes around and they say, this young guy’s here to help — all we want is for our clubs to survive.

“We are thankful for what the sponsors do, without them we can’t operate, and also the past committees and members, we haven’t forgotten them — how else do we learn?”

The age gap could be intimidating, he added, which meant younger members can be more cautious about asking questions.

“We’re open to conversations, we want as many people playing sport as we can,” he said.

“We all need the members, and if a younger person’s in the chain of command and they can come to us and ask us, it’s a positive.”

Dowd made the decision to run as president only recently, and already he has grown his committee.

“Now I’ve got eight people under the age of 25 on our committee — last year we only had three people on our committee total,” he said.

“It’s bringing the youth together to get more ideas and get more people involved.”

From the executive’s perspective, one of Dowd’s plans involves  practical sustainability.

“I’ve tried to make everything longterm, so if someone does take over from me, there’s processes in place,” he said.

“For example, with our sponsorships, previously it was only one year, now I’ve tried to extend it to three or five years, to make it viable for our club, and to make sure we’ve got consistent income coming in.”

Weir’s experience as an accountant came in handy as treasurer, he said, as he could see how to modernise the systems to keep the club going.

“(The previous treasurer) before me was doing it for 20-plus years, and she was encouraging me because no one else had really come forward,” he said.

“I put my hand up and said I’ll take on some responsibility, and other (young people) said, ‘oh, it can’t be that hard’, and joined in as well.

“The people that have been there so long that built the clubs, they care so much about it and they only want good for the club, so you have to earn their trust.

“Especially looking after the books, they have to trust you to do a good job.”

All three were conscious of the community support provided by sponsors, and how successful clubs in turn support the community.

“We’ve got aspirations, instead of just ticking over — we want to put in two more courts and flatten out the grass courts, and for that sort of stuff you have to have the sponsors and the support of the community to grow those ideas,” Weir said.

Savage agreed, noting the partnerships would keep other programs afloat, including junior development.

“There’s a roll-on effect by doing business with clubs, it comes back to (the sponsors), maybe not straight away, but for big events, players have to stay somewhere and eat somewhere,” he said.

“Our numbers are ailing, we’re honest to the fact we went from more than 300 full members, and lost maybe 30 members last year, that’s not just from death and old age, people move around, so if we can get kids to enjoy sport, it’s better for everyone.”

The focus on families was valuable as well, Dowd said, because there were certainly other measures of ensuring a club was successful — he prioritised making the cricket club a social place that people wanted to be at.

“Success comes off the field as well, building relationships with families and getting people involved in things like the cricket club — that’s what success is,” he said.

All three encouraged other young people to put their hands up as well, regardless of what sport they played, or community groups they belonged to.

“Get involved, anything helps,” Dowd said.

“It might not even be a committee role, just cooking a barbecue,” Savage said.

“How can I help? That’s what I asked, there’ll always be a job for you, if you want to offer yourself up,” Weir added.