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"Sports clubs – ideal partners for outdoor sport and exercise facilities?"
By Ralf Pahlsmeier, CEO Ahorn-Sportpark, Paderborn
First a quick review: For more than 45 years, the mascot 'TRIMMY' has represented exercise. At that time, at the start of the 1970s, the German sports association (Deutsche Sportbund, DSB), the predecessor of today's German Olympic Sports Confederation (Deutschen Olympischen Sportbundes, DOSB) and umbrella organisation of German sport, took the initiative against a sedentary lifestyle and an increasing number of cardiovascular diseases. The "Trimm-Dich" get fit action was more than just a classical marketing campaign. It was backed up by the vision of motivating people of different age groups and capabilities to exercise more and more regularly - naturally, by joining their local sports clubs. So-called "Trimm-dich-Pfade", exercise tracks in local public recreation areas, were built. These can be considered to be the forerunners of today's modern outdoor sports and exercise centres. More than 1500 of this kind of course were built in Germany for use by amateur and hobby athletes to combine endurance sports and fitness. Since this period, the number of members in German club sport has increased steadily. This development can be attributed above all to the fact that for the first time, sports clubs and associations no longer concentrate only on elite sports and the corresponding competitions. Focus on hobby and leisure sports has been given greater priority.
Sports clubs also profit from installation of running tracks!
Back to the present: Current sport behavioural studies from different major cities substantiate the requirement of many people for individual exercise opportunities, without performance pressure and in public facilities. This applies not only to classic sports, but to any kind of exercise. The reaction to these requirements was construction of modern outdoor sport and exercise facilities. In contrast to the 1970s, today it is not only organised sport with its many member organisations which support this movement. There are many varied and, in some cases informal and decentrally organised groups, which convert public areas of a city into "sports zones" and publicise a demand for exercise space. From youngsters to senior citizens, many potentially active people can be motivated for local sport or, "Sport on the Spot" as it is called in Germany. This has led to an increasing number of administrational and local political authorities to plan and realise public sport and exercise facilities – above all in the vicinity of residential and working areas. In recent years, public outdoor sports and exercise facilities were unique positive factors, even selling points, for communities. It is completely conceivable or even reality that this kind of opportunity and facility is now expected by the population – as in the 1970s and 1980s – to be provided as "standard" to requirements.
When planning outdoor sports and exercise facilities, many decision-makers are faced with the fundamental question of sustainable use. In an age of limited time and money resources, this kind if investment is subjected to close scrutiny, especially if it is linked to alleged innovations or trends. There are practically no experience values or scientific reports in this field. In addition, non-organised target groups are difficult to quantify and cannot be easily incorporated in planning work by the initiators.
The point is, therefore, to find one or more reliable partners who on the one hand, can provide support for conceptual development of this kind of facility with their expert knowledge and, on the other hand, can ensure intensive and sustainable utilisation of the facilities.
Could a sports club be the right choice and if so, why?
What characterises a sports club? More than 27 million people in Germany are currently members of one of the more than 90,000 thousand sports clubs. The many qualified trainers and instructors in these clubs form a basis of expert knowledge in the field of sport, exercise and health, which is held in high regard. Furthermore, they have an important social relevance for their members and are exceptionally well identified with their location. They are a solid part of daily life, for example, in their town, city district or even the region. Sports clubs are mainly characterised by voluntary organisational structures and a practiced principle of solidarity. They take on social tasks and responsibilities such as integration and imparting social values. They create role models and, through their non-profit function, are readily accepted by the public.
Changes to society, however, are also creating new challenges for sports clubs and demands made of them are increasing. They are faced with greater competition in finding members. Due to demographic change, introduction of organised extra-curricular school activities and the sheer number of other leisure-time activities available, the number of members is particularly low in the younger age group. This means that cooperation in the creation of outdoor sports and exercise opportunities can present a very interesting opportunity for a sports club to create new facilities and the possibility to generate new sports programmes. The combination of attractive infrastructure and qualified instructors is a basic prerequisite for a sports club to maintain membership levels and to attract new members to take part in organised sport.
For this reason, some specific sports clubs should have an interest in active participation in the creation of outdoor sport and exercise facilities in order to achieve added value for their club activities. These can include, for example:
- Major clubs with several thousand members. In Germany, many of these clubs are organised in a national association (Freiburger Kreis e.V.) with professional administration both organisational and with regard to training and sport science. Current projects show that major clubs also have planned and realised their own outdoor sport and exercise facilities.
- Field athletics and gymnastics clubs, which have a very close connection to the topics of fitness and health exercise due to their sport-orientation.
- Senior citizens sports clubs. These have a wealth of experience in the field of sport for their special target group 60+ and can thus overcome inhibitions in this age group.
- Rehabilitation sports clubs which have qualified specialist instructors.
In the end, incorporation of sports clubs in a project can create a win-win situation for all partners involved, but the right timing is very important! Sports clubs can and should be included right from the start in planning of outdoor sports and exercise facilities!
In decisions about important planning criteria, for example, target group, location, selection of equipment, etc. they can draw on their specialised know-how. It should be clarified at an early stage, to what extent sports clubs can actually take an active part. Personnel and time resources should be taken into account and determine various approaches for a cooperation.
Existing examples show that sports clubs can take an active part in raising finances, e.g. finding investment sponsors or other funding. When used regularly, sports facilities become a meeting point for club members and existing sporting activities or new kinds of sport can be carried out. Clubs also have different communication channels to provide information about activities and offers available.
Ongoing and already realised installation projects already illustrate the diversity of cooperation possible with sports clubs. There are practically no limits to the creativity and scope of design which can be achieved. Which underlines clearly that:
Sports clubs are ideal partners!