|Challenges to the Game
[11/21/2008] [Brennon and Flare]
Amtgard has many positives in its favor, but it also possesses fundamental challenges in critical areas. By far the most common challenges facing a group are as follows:
Retention. Retention is the ability of your group, on a local level, to keep existing players coming back from week to week.
Recruitment. Recruitment is the ability to convince interested parties that Amtgard is worth trying.
Visibility. Visibility is the ability of your group to attract positive attention to itself.
Retention, Recruitment and Visibility are critical to the success and health of a group; with these challenges overcome a group thrives. In the following paragraphs I will outline the issues inherent in each of these challenges and how to overcome them.
Retention is the initial goal that groups must focus on. If you cannot maintain population you are actively hurting yourself every time you recruit a new member. A person who has tried Amtgard and received a less than enjoyable impression is a much harder sell than an unbiased candidate. So what makes for good retention? Enjoyment, Attitude, and Inclusion.
First, Enjoyment. Make sure that all members of your group are given the opportunity to do something they enjoy every time they come out. Many people would prefer only to ditch, other people would prefer only to battlegame, and some are just there to socialize on the sidelines. Everybody, however, is willing to compromise for a situation where there is a broad cross-section of available opportunities. Start off the day with a ditch, run two fast-paced and enjoyable battlegames (see my previous article on "How To Run A Battlegame"), and end the day with a ditch. Encourage people to participate in both activities but DO NOT pressure them; especially those who seem uninterested in fighting and only want to socialize. Focus on everybody having fun at their own pace. A day where you do not have a battlegame and ditch is a day when you have discouraged a member of your park from coming back next week.
Second, Attitude. Amtgard is what people do on the weekends to have fun and relax (even if, like me, their idea of relaxing is competition). People will not go to Amtgard if they cannot have fun and relax. A bad attitude (AKA 'Drama') is a fantastic way to drive people away from the park. Bad attitudes are arguments, poor sportsmanship, cheating, rumormongering, and attention whoring. These issues are easy to address with a little honesty and self-restraint. If you have a problem with somebody, address it with them in a straight forward and non-hostile manner. Do NOT address it when you are angry. Calm down, grab some water, get some perspective, and THEN address it with them. Do not argue. Plainly state your case and suggest a resolution that is reasonable to both parties.
If you believe somebody is cheating, ask a neutral 3rd party to observe the situation and give you their opinion. Your friend Bob who always agrees with you is NOT a neutral 3rd party. A reeve or trusted park official is. Be open to accepting whatever conclusion they reach. As a participant to the situation your opinion may be biased. If somebody addresses you about cheating, be understanding and friendly. If you got caught, own up to it and quit cheating. If it is a misunderstanding take the time to explain what you feel is going on in a patient and friendly manner. I cannot stress this enough: Always assume people have the best intentions whenever they address anything with you. If we start from that concept, everything else will work out. If somebody approaches you to gossip, politely tell them you are not interested. If you have something you feel the need to talk about, talk about it directly with the people involved. This will get you the best information, and keep everything on the clear and level. Remember: Every time you explode on the field, argue with another member of the park, spread rumors, or generally act as a bad citizen of Amtgard you are killing your park. Don't be that guy.
Third, Inclusion. Amtgard as a whole is very cliquish and exclusionary. We need to reverse this trend quickly and thoroughly. It is fine to have our own friend circles, companies, and the like. What is not fine is when we adhere so closely to these groups that any new member of the park is left out in the cold and does not feel part of the larger community. We must take positive steps to include each and every new player from the first day they come out.
The following is a minimal list of what each player should expect in terms of inclusion from every park day:
- Greeted, by chosen name, upon showing up at the park.
- Invited to participate in whatever activity is occurring when they arrive.
- Greeted by at least two different people when they join in their first activity of the day.
- Addressed by their chosen name during all daily activities.
- Thanked for coming out by at least two different people when the day is wrapped up.
- Asked by at least one person to come back next week.
Additionally it is incredibly useful to invite new players out to after-park activities such as movies, dinner, etc. A player is far, far more likely to enjoy themselves and return if they feel they are actively appreciated and made a member of the group.
Once retention has been mastered and players are happily returning every week it is time to turn your attention to growing the park. Recruitment is often the most challenging thing for any park to accomplish, but it does not have to be complex or mysterious. It does, however, require us to acknowledge some hard facts:
- Most Amtgardians have poor personal appearance.
- Most Amtgardians lack social skills.
- Most Amtgardians are introverts.
First, make sure that the person you choose to give the pitch to a potential new player is well spoken, friendly and pleasing to the eye. Do not pick the fat guy wearing too-small short shorts and a ratty t-shirt. That guy might be awesome and wonderful once you know him, but he's a bad first impression for the club. Pick the attractive guy/girl in good, modest garb to go talk with the prospective new players. If you don't have any of those handy, choose the person closest to it and make a mental note to get everybody better garb.
Second, speak in a natural, friendly manner. If you are not naturally friendly then you need to fake it. Feel out what part of Amtgard the participant might be interested in and talk about THAT. Do not talk about YOUR favorite part of the game unless specifically asked. If you are not well-qualified to talk about what interests the candidate about the game, then invite somebody who is an expert in that area to join in the conversation. Encourage their interests, even if it is not personally something you are interested in. Do not talk about the intricacies of kingdoms, politics, government, knighthood, fighting companies, or anything else. This is a first blush to see if the person is interested in the game of Amtgard itself. Everything else will come in time. Do not talk about how great you are or how awesome your persona is. Be friendly, affable, courteous, and polite.
Third, if you see somebody watching the game from the sidelines, approach them. If you do not feel qualified to approach them then notify the person at the park in charge of new player relations to go speak with them. Do not let prospective new players go away simply because talking with them is uncomfortable for you.
Now that we understand how to maintain and recruit members, we need to gain visibility. Visibility for Amtgard (and extreme sports in general) is primarily from word-of-mouth or random passers-by. Demonstrations, fliers, and advertisements generally yield low returns. The first, and best, way to attract new players is by encouraging your park members to tell their friends about their hobby. In order for this to work you need to ensure that the members of your park feel comfortable with bringing their friends to the park. The park needs to be enjoyable, respectable, open-minded, and friendly. A park that is hostile is not a place where anybody wants to bring their friends. Make it a goal for each member of your group to bring out a new recruit each month. The second form of visibility for groups is passers-by. You need to maximize your visibility from the street, as well as making sure that the area you meeting in caters to your target demographic. A beautiful secluded park with lush woodlands in an upscale, 30-something neighborhood is not nearly as good a location as the park on the main road in town right across from the high school no matter what condition it is in.
A quick checklist will help you determine your optimal location:
- Is the location easily accessible to an urban area? Parks that are secluded on the outskirts of town are bad.
- Does the location have a lot of foot traffic? More is better.
- Is the area appropriate for my target demographic? The most receptive people to Amtgard are 15 to 18 year old high school students who come from lower middle class to middle class backgrounds.
- Can my location and activities be seen clearly from the road? If you cannot, choose another location.
- Does my location offer amenities such as bathrooms, benches, water fountains, etc? Not required, but definitely encouraged.
If you are having trouble finding parks in your area, I highly recommend using Google Maps. If you type in the name of your city and state on 'Map' view, you will likely see numerous areas shaded light green. These are all community parks and any one of them might be a good candidate. Use the satellite view to examine potential candidate parks, make a list of the four best options, and go visit them during the day when your group meets. Evaluate them against the criteria listed above. See the image below for an example.
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