As a regular participant in Ottawa's Inline Speedskating events, and a former member of the Ottawa Inline Speedskating Club, I often hear "how can we grow the sport" and "how to we attract more skaters" and most recently "how to we retain our membership". It seems these are important questions as the number of people participating in this sport is not only not growing, but it seems to be decreasing.
In my years of life, I learned some valuable lessons. This particular one I learned very early in life. "When you remove emotional ties attached to a problem, what is left, regardless of how you feel about it or your opinions on it, tends to be the truth. It is very Sherlock Holmes.
Thus, here are my thoughts as to why this problem is hitting Inline Speedskating. It is pretty simple. Prepare yourself.
Training is not fun.
Now before you go clicking on that comment button, hear me out. 80% of the skaters in Ottawa are what I would call recreational skaters. Sure they have speedskates but they are non-competitive skaters who average around 20-30 kph. They do a few marathons a year just for the fun of it. The other 20% are those who are natually talented and have learned early on that they have an ability not shared by the others. I call them Elite. There aren't too many.
So what does this mean? Here is my point.... You can't bunch 80% of a group into the training habits of a 20% minority and expect them to a) benefit the same way, b) keep a healthy level of confidence, c) have fun and d) come back. In reality, some of these people just come out to see the other skaters. The idea of skating 100 laps around a parking lot is enough to have them question every returning. Sure they are putting in the hours and learning better techique blah blah blah. But are they having fun? Do they leave wanting to come back.
In "year one" and two of skating, I found myself wanting to come back. The little technique I learned made me a much better overall skater than when I began. Not "speedskater", just skater. But once the little victories stopped coming and it all became out training and honing the technique just to go faster....the want diminished. It wasn't about seeing everyone anymore and comparing development stories. It became about speed and being able to crossover properly and climb hills...etc. Why in hell is that fun? It's not. Not for many in that 80% group. There is no end game. They train just for the sake of training. There are some that welcome that concept but for most, it is a foreign way of thinking.
So why isn't the sport growing? Because we have no fun grassroots programing. You either ARE a speedskater or your not. Sure we have the odd rollerblader who comes out to one of our practices but they quickly learn that this is a "speedskating" session and not a "how to skate" session even though we supposedly welcome everyone. Really? Seriously? Think about it. We don't! We promote "inline skating" and they we force feed you "speedskating". No wonder people don't come back. It would be like signing up for a squash lesson and then finding yourself on a tennis court.
So you want to learn how to grow the sport? You have to take a step backwards. Promote skating in it's natural form. And most of all, make it fun again. Not only that, but advertise the SHIT out of the fun aspect. Kids and young adults want to have fun. They don't want to train for a sport that they will only ever be adequate at. Why train so hard to go nowhere, when having fun will take you anywhere! Eventually, there will be cross over skaters who make the transition. But don't force it. And don't false advertise. Take a good look in the mirror and accept your club for what it is not what it wishes it was.