At the Junior reception at the recent Las Vegas NABC, several speakers reiterated the same point: the ACBL needs more young players, and they want us, the juniors, to get our friends into the game. I have a question for those who keep telling us to get our friends involved: Who do you think our friends are?
Our friends are already here. We met them at the bridge table. And while there is a camaraderie among young players, most of our friends are the same as yours: other bridge players, young and old.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the ACBL cannot simply call on us juniors to revitalize the game with a few text messages and blog posts directed to our [non-existent] non-bridge friends. But hope is not lost! We're happy to help get the youth into the game, but you, the ACBL execs, and members of all ages, will need to help us.
We junior players are happy to welcome and befriend other young folks when we see them, but you all have to recognize and harness the power you have to bring kids to the bridge table in the first place. Right now, the ACBL and its members are failing at this task.
I played in my first ACBL game at age 11. I caddied for many years as well. I traveled to tournaments all over the US and became well-known among players and ACBL officials. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but I was a smart kid with definite potential. Nevertheless, the encouragement I got in my thousands of hours at bridge tables never went beyond a patronizing “It's so nice to see young people playing bridge!”
Not once in my fourteen years as an active and eligible junior did anyone speak to me about the opportunities available to junior bridge players – and I know now that those opportunities are many. No one ever took me under their wing; no one told me about the scholarships or travel; no director even mentioned to me the junior entry fee discount.
It wasn't until nearly the very end of my juniordom that I married former junior standout McKenzie Myers and realized just how many opportunities I had missed. My husband was lucky enough to take up bridge in an area full of knowledgeable and helpful players who helped him get involved in the junior program and become the successful and enthusiastic young bridge player that he is today. If all young players received the attention and nurturing that McKenzie got from District 20, junior bridge would be a much bigger part of the ACBL.
If the ACBL and its members are ready to back up that statement we keep hearing (everybody together now: It's SO NICE to see young people playing bridge!), here's what you need to do:
Give kids some incentive to turn off their Wiis and iPods and pick up a deck of cards. Class credit in high schools and colleges is a great way to get kids to try the game at an age where they're still young enough to take advantage of junior opportunities.
A friend of mine who is a professor at a Virginia university taught a semester long bridge course for honors students. He used supplies and lesson plans of his own, because he didn't know of any of the ACBL's education initiatives. The ACBL needs to work harder to reach out to educators who are in the best position of all to recruit young players to the game.
Next comes PR. Stop letting young players fall through the cracks. When a new player joins the ACBL, take note of their birthdate. When a new junior joins, reach out! Tell them about discounts, scholarships, special events, and other junior players. A simple information packet and a handful of tournament free plays could go a long way toward boosting junior bridge and the entire ACBL in turn.
I suggest that every district dedicate some energy toward junior relations. This means electing juniors to serve on boards and to reach out to new junior players in the area. This junior liaison can provide names and numbers of folks in the district who can partner and teach new young players. Most juniors have parents who play bridge, but let's be honest – teenagers are not going to get excited about social lives that revolve around their parents. Furthermore, many of us would find our development stunted if we relied only on our parents' instruction. (My mother is one of the finest players in Unit 139, but my goal is to be one of the finest players in the world.)
Bridge is a wonderful game, and you don't need gimmicks to lure kids into it. Even though my days as a junior are waning, I plan to enjoy everything that remains available to me and all players in the game for the rest of my life. But there are so many additional opportunities in bridge for under-26 players that it really should be easy to hook these kids on the game. All we have to do is get the word out – and that's not just the job of the handful of juniors in the ACBL right now – that should be a priority for all ACBL members.
Kudos to those who are already working hard on behalf of young bridge players. The first Youth NABC in Atlanta earlier this year was a great success, and if all districts had dedicated members like the Atlanta crew, you'd see a lot more young faces at the table. If you'd like to keep this discussion going, please email me at Meg@DoubleSqueeze.com.
Board Member – Unit 139
Tournament Chairman – 2009 Charlottesville Regional
Co-Editor – www.DoubleSqueeze.com