Campaigns

What clubs need now

A poll shows how chess clubs in the Netherlands are surviving the pandemic and what support they expect from their national federation, reports Stefan Löffler.

“Chess does something with you” is the slogan of promotional posters the Dutch federation is providing to clubs.
“Chess does something with you” is the slogan of promotional posters the Dutch federation is providing to clubs. (KNSB)

Keeping contact with their clubs is important to the Royal Dutch Chess Federation. Every five years, all chess clubs in the Netherlands are surveyed. The purpose is to find out which clubs need extra support. Nine general criteria are used to determine the vitality of a chess club (nearly all pages linked in this article are in Dutch):

The last two criteria may sound negligible at first, but their importance is growing. Cooperation with schools, other sport clubs, libraries or day care centres and what a club does for education, inclusion and integration in their community (with key performance indicators like the number of pupils or elderly people engaging in chess activities) increasingly determine the subsidies and resources this club can raise.

Cooperation with local schools and stakeholders and KPIs like the number of pupils or elderly people engaging in chess activities increasingly determine the resources a club can raise.

Clubs that participate in the survey can get detailed feedback and benchmark themselves against clubs of the same region or size. In practice, not so many clubs are using these strategic insights yet, admits Eric van Breugel, who has been with the Dutch federation and providing services to clubs since 25 years. According to van Breugel, the biggest impact of the first survey in 2015 has been an initiative to set up special junior chess clubs for kids between 12 and 16, which are doing well.

The second survey was conducted in February 2020 (the main results are discussed on page 38 here). Then the pandemic struck. The impossibility of proper club meetings triggered fears that not all clubs will survive. Therefore the Dutch Chess Federation decided to run an interim poll. Van Breugel drafted ten questions and contacted all club secretaries and youth leaders. Out of 421 existing clubs, 231 sent replies. The analysis was published recently.

Many clubs run internal competitions with the opponents organising the games themselves played online or sometimes in their homes.

Every third responding club says that they are not in good or normal shape. Every fifth responding club is not keeping in touch with its members. While some clubs just keep updating their website and exchanging emails, nearly half of the clubs are doing more than that: Many clubs run internal competitions with the opponents organising the games themselves to be played online or sometimes in their homes. These clubs’ members meet online for training or for competing as a team.

The survey author Eric van Breugel has been with the Dutch Chess Federation supporting clubs since 25 years.
The survey author Eric van Breugel has been with the Dutch Chess Federation supporting clubs since 25 years. (KNSB)

90% of the responding clubs are at least satisfied with the online support by the federation, but not all of it is equally known. While most clubs are aware of the online competitions for clubs, few know of the daily tournaments for kids, webinars for volunteers or the open calendar where clubs can advertise their online activities.

The poll confirmed that youth members engage significantly more in online activities. While the youngest are less connected to the club and the most likely to leave, the oldest members have played the least chess during the pandemic, if at all. Some clubs have been experimenting with different types of quizzes, newsletters and outdoor meetings. The latter is helped by the growing number of outdoor chess tables in public parks set up by Dutch communities thanks to an initiative by Jesus Medina. When it comes to suggestions, they ask for slower time controls, different online tournament formats and more diverse topics in the offered webinars.

The community app ChessFellow can help clubs to mobilize existing members and find new ones.
The community app ChessFellow can help clubs to mobilize existing members and find new ones. (ChessFellow)

Asked if their club has ideas how to use the online boom and interest created by The Queen’s Gambit series on Netflix, 80% said they have no idea yet and only 20% said they felt prepared or have already started planning. Some started to communicate through neigbourhood online networks like Nextdoor or have ordered outdoor banners for the time when they can open again.

The federation is preparing a national campaign for autumn when the clubs are coming back to life.

The federation has published a collection of good practice examples and encourages visible activities such as „kroegloper“ (pubcrawl) tournaments, for which there even exists a free app. Chess has joined with other sport federations to adapt a forum for club leaders called Eentweetje that is showing a great impact in amateur football. The federation partners with the new community app ChessFellow that can help clubs to mobilize existing members and find new ones. Last not least, a workgroup of the federation has started to work on a national campaign for autumn when the clubs are coming back to life.