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Chris Compton wrote the following as a candidate for ACBL board representative. While I don't agree with everything Chris said, I do believe he raises several important issues that would be of interest to readers of Bridge Winners

Platform Statement

Chris Compton – First Alternate District 16

The Mission of the ACBL is to promote, grow, and sustain the game of Bridge. As First Alternate, and hopefully later as District Director, I pledge to work hard to fulfill this mission. As an incoming Board member, it is not appropriate to have firm, unyielding positons on issues which come before the Board – new information is constantly coming forth which requires maintaining an open mind. However, I discuss below three issues important to District 16 and to the entire ACBL.

Technology Services Imbroglio

It is supposed to be a volunteer League with a professional staff, but the recent technology services contract between the ACBL and Hammond Services revealed that the professional staff is not running the League in a business-like fashion. It is almost hard to figure out how this could have ended worse, but at present, the ACBL has paid two million dollars for code writing services which the ACBL says does not work, which written code the ACBL does not own the copyright for, but which code seems to be working for the code writer, Hammond Services (who has been paid the two million dollars). To start at the beginning, the ACBL technology committee was chaired by a retired Michigan math professor whose husband was a sitting ACBL BOD member. As but one example of a lack of business-like performance, at no point was Microsoft sent a request for proposal or even contacted. Yes, Microsoft is expensive, but a business-like procedure would have solicited a Microsoft solution. Next came a brand new ACBL CEO who started his tenure a month before the technology services contract was signed. Somewhere along the line, League Counsel negotiated out the work for hire paragraph in the final contract – which led to the League lacking the copyright to protect against Hammond Services marketing the product to bridge clubs. The new CEO hired a new technology officer who is no longer with the League. Under the technology officer’s tenure, the ACBL missed most of its requirement deadlines for submitting contractually required information to Hammond. This fiasco was backward from the routine snafu of the code writer missing deadlines to provide code back to the company. Business-like companies have their requirements submitted ahead of time and then complain of a slow performing code writer. Since we missed the submission deadlines, Hammond Services still had to be paid in full. Ugh! (At this point the League is still recovering from other issues related to the departed technology officer.) The bottom line is that this whole episode was not performed in a business-like manner.

ACBL Board Redistricting

In response to the technology waste described above, a group of League members led by Bob Hamman asked the BOD to resign. This seems remarkably unlikely to occur, but the idea of shrinking the BOD from its present size of 25 members is attractive and deserves intense study. Presently, the membership of the districts vary in size from 3330 members (District15 Oklahoma, Kansas, most of Missouri) to 18,000 members (District 9, Florida). This has led to problems related to size disparity. For example, there are so many regionals that the very largest districts cannot really support the large number they have, while the smallest districts have 425 table regionals which look and feel like sectionals. In the interest of a more efficient and cohesive BOD, it might be good to reduce the 25 districts to 15 Districts which reduction could be achieved by combing the smallest districts. The resulting districts would then vary in size from approximately 10,000 to 18,000, leading to an easier rapport between the BOD and Management, resulting in fewer 13-12 votes on issues.

Membership Recruitment and Retention

The ACBL has essentially had the same number of members since I joined the League in 1974. Membership increases should be attainable due to the aging population. Simply put, as we live longer, Bridge becomes more attractive; and, as the mature demographic increases in size, our membership will grow even with a smaller portion of an ever growing population. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the middle school programs are of far greater long-term value due to the life-span of the youth member – despite the higher cost of initial recruitment. Accordingly, we need programs aimed at youth, young adults, and empty nesters – as well as our base - the traditional mature demographic.

Our District is recruiting new members, but not retaining them. We lose new members between year one and two. We need a four-step program: ongoing lessons, newbie games, mentoring programs, and shepherds to take the New Member from new recruit to Lifemaster.

One set of lessons is not enough to hook the New Member. Each unit needs ongoing lessons which offer the New Member at least two years of curriculum. Over the two year period, the New Member builds friendships through classes, leading directly to the formation of partnerships. One of the top reasons new members drop out is due to dissatisfaction with, or the lack of, partners. Classes are an excellent source of new partnerships – with only minimal encouragement and coordination between instructors and directors.

Next, frequent newbie games are a must. You can recruit lots of new members; but, if you do not give them a safe, reassuring game in which to play, they will run away. Adults do not like to be corrected, especially in public. To this end, the newbie game should have an ACBL Certified Instructor overseeing the movement, partnerships and questions. Creating an educational atmosphere in the newbie game is the key to success. Allow questions during the actual play and formulate the answers so everyone learns.

Once the New Member is comfortable in their surroundings, you then offer them a mentor to try the next level game, perhaps a 299er pairs. It is a big jump to go from the newbie game where everyone asks questions to the 299er where only an occasional question is asked. The mentor’s goal is to comfortably introduce the New Member to their new, more competitive, world. Making friends and building partnerships starts through the mentor. To this end, the mentor doesn’t need to be a Lifemaster. The best mentors are ones who “know everyone’s names” and likes to have fun.

Finally, the Shepherd Program is for the first year member and pulls everything together. Each New Member is assigned a shepherd who is their “friend” at the club. Someone whom they can call if they had a bad day at the table, or perhaps are upset with a ruling or an opponent. The shepherd checks in with the New Member from time to time to see, “How is it going?” When there is a problem, the shepherd contacts the club manager to discuss the issue. Once the New Member renews for year two, the Shepherd has achieved their goal. Oftentimes, however, the Shepherd and New Member continue their friendship for years to come.

If we attach a more experienced player to a brand new member, we have a much greater chance of retaining the member until Lifemaster: at which point we have another retention decrease with which to deal. Details regarding all of these programs may be found at www.bridgeindallas.com.

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