Saturday, 23 June 2007

A Mysterious Disappearance

Anyone who has traveled by road between Sydney and Canberra has passed by the body of water known as Lake George. Although sometimes when you drive past, the lake isn't there at all. Lake George is one of the worlds "disappearing" lakes, one that alternates between full and empty. Why Lake George does this isn't known as yet, and most theories are either simplistic or unconvincing.
In the Canberra chess scene we have a similar phenomenon. Over the last 20 years Canberra has had 3 or 4 senior clubs in operation. At various times some clubs do well, while others do badly. Which clubs these are change over time, sometimes without clear reasons why. Over the last 5 or so years Belconnen Chess Club has been the largest club in Canberra, mainly fueled by a large number of juniors. 40 to 50 player events were common at the club, up until this year that is. This year has seen a marked decline in numbers with fields half the size of previous years. In part this can be attributed to the loss of experienced club organisers, but I'm not convinced this is the entire reason. Usually a (non-acrimonious) change in organisers doesn't drive people out of a club, although it may mean a club fails to attract new members. And from talking to players who still play at the club, nothing has happened to make the club a less attractive place to play.
In years past this might be explained by players moving to other clubs but again this doesn't seem to be happening. The Canberra Chess Club is in an almost terminal decline, while the ANU Chess Club is attracting new members from other areas. And while Tuggeranong chess club has had a good turn out over the past 18 months, its numbers are starting to slide as well.
So what is the cause? Is it that clubs can't expect players to keep turning up, and they need to continually "urge" members to come back next week? Is it that members are simply taking a "short" break, which then extends into a "long" break? Or is it an avalanche effect where the decline in numbers becomes a disincentive for remaining members to stay?
Opinions and comment on this question are most welcome.


Anonymous said...

Just some comments on Belco - I think there are a number of factors.

- Belco was at its strongest when thre were a large number of teams "getting ready" for the school comp playoffs. You had Mirabelle Guo, John Logan, Olivers, Michael Wei, Chris Tran, Tor and others all gathering teams around them and encouraging them to play. This also generated multiple adult parent players. (John Logan, Jenni and Tony Oliver, Norfors, Zjelko Lovric, David Mitchell among others). For whatever reason this is no longer happening. I think at one point I could have counted nearly 20 people who were playing at Belco, because they were associated with school teams that Tony and I were organising. (St Monicas, Radford and Daramalan).

- the migration paths for juniors from ACTJCL to adult clubs doesn't seem to be happening as well - hasn't for the last couple of years. Not sure why, as dev squad still seems to encourage kids to take the "next" step, but they aren't.

- I haven't been to Belco at all this year and wasn't there much in the second half of last year. However if rounds are starting late this can put people off wanting to play there. Not sure if that is happening or not, but it is a chronic problem with chess clubs.

- speaking just for my family (and I guess losing 5 people in 1 hit is a 10% loss), we didn't want to play for the following reasons

1 I didn't want to do any more chess admin and not being there meant I couldn't feel guilty and be dragged in
2 We were really tired of an every week commitment and thought it would be more fun to play weekenders
3 There isn't any social element at Belco. This particularly affected the kids, who all felt thre was "no-one" at Belco any longer that they wanted to talk to.

I thik the real question might be why are we losing all the teenagers.

Thinking about it, I think chess clubs are too boring. I used to wear myself out trying to control the little kids and keep it quiet for the "serious" players and get it to run on time (and get a shared responsibility among everyone so it wasn't one or two peole doing all the work).

However I wonder whether in fact we don't need noisier, less controlled environments where there is more socialsing and more fun. There could be one serious tournament a year and maybe encourage everyone to play weekenders to get their "serious" chess. Then concentrate within the club on have a much more social environment that encourages more people to stay involved.

Whiel I think things go in cycles and Belco could build up again, the drain from the clubs does seem to be a more normal state of things.


Shaun Press said...

Talking to a "chess" parent on the weekend, and one of the things that have stopped her kids from attending is the "sameness" of the field. Once the numbers drop below 20 or so, you often find yourself playing the same opponents each tournament. Also with smaller numbers it is harder to play within your own level, and the dreaded "bounce effect" can occur.
On the other hand, Belconnen Chess Club from the mid 80's to the early 90's only had between 16 and 24 players in most of their tournaments, and I would normally play players like Ian Hosking, David Austin, Justin Marshall or Ian Rout in 4 out of the 5 tournaments a year. I guess in my case we were all around the same strength and they were still competitive games, meaning we didn't mind so much.

Libby said...

I think one difference - for the "younger" players in the ACT is that when you talk about "sameness" you are talking about playing the same group you played last week in (sometimes) your own school club, the same group you play at Dev Squad on the weekend, the same group you played in the U10s and the same group you end up mixed in with in a small Club environment. Sometimes you even end up with more than half of your games at Doeberl or ANU being against the same ones again (or worse, your own sibling).

The more our "senior" Club environment shrinks the less variety they offer from the chess the children have in junior & other events. It was one thing that drew Kayleigh to Street Chess because it presented a different group of people to play to the group she met in every junior or Club event. Some were still the same but overall there was a difference (plus lunch and the occasional bit of pocket money!)

We want (and need) some overlap. But depending on factors like age, ability and the size of your local Club, you can end up with some very repetitive match experiences.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to people at the schools comp on Monday (Libby among them :) and a comment I made there is worth considering.

In Canberra we run 4 adult chess - interstate our population base would support one. As a consequence the scarce resource of players is spread far too thin.

I know Canberra people have a hatred of driving more that 10 minutes to anything and also there is an attachment to a particular club, but one has to wonder whether we can afford this luxury!