Vaulting is not a well-known sport and in previous posts, we have already covered a few of the difficulties faced by small vaulting clubs. Challenges range from being an aspiring vaulter who lives hours away from the nearest club to being a small team looking for the perfect vaulting horse to complete the team. We continue this conversation by asking: How can club owners and coaches attract new vaulters to the club? How can we draw attention to a sport that is unknown to most parents?
We posed these questions to a few small club owners and coaches from the USA, Germany and Canada, and collected working strategies they shared with us:
1. Lots of advertising effort
“By MARKETING 24/7!” exclaims Gibran Stout of OC Vaulting of Costa Mesa, California. “We offer a recreational vaulting class through our local Parks & Recreation Department. While we don’t get many sign-ups, I figure it is free advertising to 50,000 local residents, multiple times throughout the year. We have a robust and current website and we do tons of demos. We also encourage our kids to do their barrel freestyles for school talent shows. You must have people and delegate work in order to market and grow your club, in addition to running it.” This has proven to be a successful strategy for OC Vaulting, which started as a small club and has grown to be nationally successful, bringing home multiple titles from the most recent USEF/AVA National Championships.
Most of the people we asked told us that an important part of their marketing is a solid website which is regularly updated, just like their social media channels. Give people a chance to find your club when searching for a sport for their children.
How important is the location of the club? Gibran Strout: “We have LARGE populations close to us. We have “access” to market to a large audience, but families around here have LOTS of “choices” and other sports/activities that we compete with…” looks like there are pros and cons to live near a big city.
2. Vacation Camps
Korynn Weber, from Canada, notes that taking advantage of school breaks can also prove useful. “A big one is summer camps,” she says. “I get a lot of kids signing up for week long summer camps. After the week they’re usually hooked and end up staying for weekly classes!”
Does the success of a vaulting club depend on its location? Korynn Weber: “I think proximity to a bigger city definitely makes a difference, along with the season! I live in a small town. In the summer we run classes at an outdoor arena about 20 minutes from the closest two towns, and we don’t have any trouble getting vaulters or having parents drive them out. We have fairly harsh winters, and lots of the time vaulters aren’t committed enough to vault late at night in the cold indoor, or parents don’t want to drive in the snow late at night. Our club goes from around 25 vaulters in the summertime to 8-10 in the winter.”
In some cities in Germany, vacation camps are offered in cooperation with local authorities and happen in different kinds of clubs. Vaulting clubs offer time in the stable where kids are offered riding and vaulting lessons and help with grooming. Some of the children register for lessons after the holidays.
3. Booth at equestrian events or in kindergartens and schools
Nathan Brashear, from Kentucky in the USA shared his strategy: “If you talk to local equestrian competition venues or outdoor recreation venues, they may allow you to bring a barrel and a table to set up and advertise the sport. I have done this a few times and it is always a hit! All it would take to run it is a coach, and it helps to have a couple vaulters who know what they are doing,” says Nathan Brashear. He also adds that special pricing for the first couple of times could offer incentives for parents to bring their kids in for the first time or two, which is about as long as it takes to get serious new vaulters hooked on the sport.
Amanda Marshall has more or less the same experiences: “I’ve gotten a lot of new students by having an educational booth with my barrels at the one international jumping show that they have in Omaha.”
The coaches from Bad Oeynhausen in Germany present their sport at kindergardens and schools near their club, this is a good strategy to reach younger kids, which is exactly the age group they are targeting.
Beth Whillock invested in taking her moving mechanical barrel to the local horse expo and offering demo classes:“Using a mechanical barrel as a draw, we get most of our new vaulters at the horse expo, followed up by an unmounted “try vaulting” mini class.”
4. Open house with trial sessions
An open house day was suggested by Jennifer Bramlage, from Germany. During the day, several trial sessions can be offered for free. The children will know the same day if they want to do the sport or not. There is no such hurdle like finding a second appointment for a test run.
She also shared a good experience with a bring-your-friend-day. Vaulters who are already participating in regular vaulting lessons were invited to bring a friend to introduce them to the sport. Some of them stayed. So opening the house to guests seems to be a good idea!
To reach a wide crowd in the region of Omaha, Amanda Marshall uses vouchers: “I’ve gotten about five new students over a year using Groupon”. In the USA it is very easy to use the platform: Amanda offers four lessons for the price of two there. When the voucher is bought, Groupon gets ⅔ of the price. That seems like a lot so it might be good to calculate well how many lessons you can offer and think if this is a good strategy for your club.
Amanda has very good experiences, though: “It’s just for new students and it’s only used once. I’ll give three free lessons if it means they will sign up for a whole semester. They always stay for a whole semester after the four lessons and a majority are still vaulting a year later. Usually I get students by word of mouth and so the Groupon just opens up to people I have no connection to, which leads to a wider network. I’ve gotten all of my higher level ex gymnasts through Groupon.”
6. Printed Flyer
As Lindsey Brashear observed, “hanging up flyers at local stores always seems to spark a lot of interest”. I guess it does not matter if you choose a picture of beginner vaulters or of top athletes for the poster. A girl that likes horses should be attracted by weekly horse time anyway.
7. Preparation for riding
The riding and driving club in Bad Oeynhausen near Minden uses vaulting as preparation for riding. Small children between 3 and 7 are not able to ride yet, but can start vaulting instead. Some switch to riding later, some stay with vaulting.
8. Give them time to fall in love with the sport
Nathan Brashear told us that the biggest factors for children to stay or leave vaulting lessons are cost, distance and what the vaulters and parents want out of the program. “I find that parents will usually do whatever it takes to allow their child to pursue the sport if that is what their child really likes and is committed to.”
“When a child falls in love with a sport, hthey will ask the parents to be allowed to take lessons or have the equipment at home.” Nathan Brashear has a solution for this situation: “I would offer special pricing for the first time or first couple times to get the prospects in the door. Then if they enjoy it they will typically be willing to make the drive to continue with the program.”
9. Vaulting for adults
Equestrian Vaulting is not only a youth sport but also appropriate for adults with or without previous knowledge. Linda Ahlig’s club, located near the airport of Munich, offers adult lessons once a week. This is one of the three groups of the club and helps to finance the horses.
In Brazil, a few clubs are now offering “Vaulting Fitness” classes that mix pilates with vaulting lessons. And it seems to be a hit among adults!
10. Don’t stop talking
Sometimes horse people do not talk about anything else. Nathan Brashear is no different: “I just talk about it (vaulting) with random people I meet. Then I say, “Oh! By the way I coach too. You could come check it out.” About 6 out of 10 times it will work.” How many people do you invite to your classes per week? It might even be annoying, but we should not keep quiet!
We hope that some of these ideas will work for your club. As a last motivatonal example we talked to Lis from Germany. She started her club only two years ago. They used a few of the listed methods: presented the sport at public events, contacted media for newspaper articles, visited equestrian competitions, held open house day with the opportunity to try vaulting, holiday activities and putting up flyers in kindergartens and schools. Even though their club is in the countryside, now they have over 80 active vaulters.
In creative a sport such as vaulting, sometimes we must get equally creative to promote it. We invite our readers to share their own tips for promoting their clubs and vaulting in general!
This post was written as a joint venture between Adele, Margaret and Celina.