The return of the first freshers’ fair since the beginning of the pandemic has provided a welcome boost to signup rates for Trinity’s smaller sports clubs. With both indoor and outdoor training back on, clubs have seen a rise in signup rates as students appear eager to return to both social and competitive sports on campus.
During the last academic year, clubs in Trinity were at the mercy of government guidelines and recurring lockdowns with – little, if any, training permitted. Speaking to The University Times, the captain of Trinity’s squash club Siddhant Seth recalled a difficult year overseeing the club. “Last year, because squash is probably one of the most indoor sports … we didn’t have any squash at all.”
Seth emphasised the lack of sign ups and activity as a result of the pandemic. “No one signed up. There were 11 people, out of which three were the committee members and we felt bad for the other remaining eight people because we couldn’t have any activity.”
This significant drop in numbers during the pandemic was a shared experience for many of Trinity’s smaller sports clubs. Even outdoor sports such as ultimate frisbee experienced drops in signup rates of over 50 per cent during the 2020/2021 academic year. Speaking to The University Times, Ultimate Frisbee women’s captain Síofra Kelly described the adverse effects that the pandemic had on their club. “It really hit us hard. In normal years I think we’d be getting 200 sign ups. We are a very small club but last year it dropped to 80 and this year it’s been about 100 so far.”
This was a shared experience for many clubs: Trinity College American Football captain Rory O’Dwyer pointed out that the lack of a freshers’ fair last year heavily impacted sign up rates. “The current second years – not having a freshers’ week for them [in 2020] really impacted us. We didn’t get a whole load of sign ups that year because I think that with American football, people have to talk to you at a stand or something to get a bit of information out of you … a lot of people won’t actively seek it out.”
In normal years I think we’d be getting 200 sign ups. We are a very small club but last year it dropped to 80 and this year it’s been about 100 so far
For many of the smaller clubs, freshers’ week is a vital time to engage with the new student cohort and capitalise on the injection of enthusiasm to sign up for anything and everything. O’Dwyer explains: “They’ll have to talk to someone and get everything explained to them and realise: ‘ I might actually be interested in playing that’ and then they might come down and give it a shot. So I think that impacted us a lot.”
But now, many of these smaller clubs have experienced a significant bounce back in signup rates with the return of the freshers’ fair and the easing of restrictions around campus.
Seth cited these factors as contributing to this year’s rates surpassing those of pre-pandemic levels. “It’s been even better than the last couple of years. Mostly because I think people want to try sports now and the committee this time tried to advertise squash as much as possible. This year we have 32 members, which is way more than before.”
The American football club had a similar experience as O’Dwyer explained: “This year we kind of got back to a more normal number. Getting back into freshers week and actually being able to talk to people in person we got back up to where we aim to get.”
For many smaller clubs, freshers’ week is a vital time to engage with the new student cohort and capitalise on the injection of enthusiasm to sign up for anything
Describing the reasons for the large increase in signup rates for the Trinity Squash club this year, Seth said: “People want to play and people probably want to try a new sport. We’ve had a healthy mix of people who are experienced and are beginners so it’s hard to guess exactly what is the reason.”
While unable to pinpoint a specific reason for the club’s growth, Seth noted the impact of lockdown and the pandemic on people’s desire to engage in sport. “I’m assuming that it’s because a year and a half of no squash has probably pushed the people who know how to play, to go ahead and play more. The people who want to try a new sport.”
“We’ve tried our best to tell them that squash is the thing for them”, he added.
Despite these welcome increases in sign up rates for some of Trinity’s smaller sports clubs, this year’s freshers’ fair was not without its issues for those attempting to convince new members to join. At this year’s Trinity Hall and freshers’ week fairs, students were directed to sign up using the Trinity Sport website, a process which Seth described as being overly complicated and needlessly confusing.
“I think the best way to describe it would be that it looked like you had to go through three different portals to sign up, but you ended up on the same portal every time. And that confused most of the people into thinking: ‘Oh we’ve already done this, why are we doing it again?’”
“The way they did it almost felt like you were signing up to the process again, rather than logging in”, explained Seth.
Convoluted signup systems might just drive some people away if they were looking to try and get in for the first few trainings. They might just not push themselves to go for it
Kelly described similar issues with the Trinity Sport website while attempting to sign up members for Ultimate Frisbee.
“Obviously I’m sure there’s a lot of people trying to sign up at the same time, so there’s going to be errors. But we’ve had a lot of people saying they just keep getting the same error with no explanation being given. So they can’t activate their student card or sign up to the club. So that means they can’t go to training.”
“That might just drive some people away if they were looking to try and get in for the first few trainings. They might just not push themselves to go for it.”
Kelly added that these issues are likely to have disproportionately affected Trinity’s smaller clubs. “If you’ve been playing rugby your whole life and you were hit with error messages when you’re trying to join the rugby club, you’re still going to try and join the club because you know you want to play.”
“Whereas with a sport like frisbee, some people are coming in and they know they want to play, but the vast, vast majority see it, think it’s cool, want to try it out, and if they aren’t getting through the first time they might just not try again”.
If it takes someone multiple attempts to try and signup, they’re going to give up and not join
Trinity’s Archery Club captain Liam Finnegan explained that his club faced similar problems. “A lot of the people who end up joining and getting involved in our club are kind of on the fence about joining. I was on the fence about joining myself and now I’m the captain. So a lot of our members are from on-the-fence signups, but if it takes someone multiple attempts to try and signup, they’re going to give up and not join.”
Some clubs anticipated issues with the Trinity Sport website, opting to print their own QR codes in an attempt to make the process easier and clearer for prospective members. O’Dwyer described how they circumvented some of the issues faced by other clubs. “We found that at the Halls fair, a lot of people hadn’t fully finished their registration process and all that so they couldn’t actually register online and sign up for your club.”
O’Dwyer pointed out they were able to avoid some issues with the Trinity Sport system by implementing their own method of gathering contact information. “We ended up printing our own QR codes as well, just to get a name and number off of people, so if they weren’t fully registered, we’d still have a way of contacting them and talking to them about the team.”
However, for clubs who weren’t this prepared, captains have suggested that these issues caused them to lose out on potential members signing up during freshers’ week.“What happened was that during the first two days, it was probably us being naive by not writing down the emails for people who were showing up. But I think that if the people who had shown up in the first few days could have signed up on the spot, we would have well over 60 members”, said Seth.
Kelly expressed similar worries about potential members not following through on signing up to their clubs due to the confusing process. “We’d been able to convince people at the stand, they’d go away, go home and we’d have no idea if they were going to go and sign up, especially if they were just hit with a bunch of error messages.”
People at the CSC run a very similar system that’s smoother. I think that’s something we could work to improve
Kelly also lamented the contrasting simplicity of the signup process in the past, with sign ups during pre-pandemic freshers’ weeks being a much quicker and hassle-free process. “In years gone by the whole thing was the freshers’ fair, there’d be people at the stands, you’d give your three euro and you’d be convinced there and then. You would then be more encouraged to come to training and really get into the club.”
On what could be done to resolve some of the issues faced by clubs during freshers’ week, Seth offered the following considerations to simplify the process: “You just make an account on Trinity Sport using your student ID, which gives them all the contact tracing information possible. Then you just give them a spreadsheet or page which says ‘here are the clubs, choose the clubs, pay for the clubs’ and you’re done.”
Indeed many involved in sports clubs want to see a change to the registration system including a current Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union sabbatical officer. At DUCAC Annual General Meeting last week TCDSU Ents Officer Greg Arrowsmith, who is also a club representative, said to those in attendance: “I’m sure most of you here would agree with me the system for joining clubs has been difficult and problematic and probably led to less signup and there should be.”
“People at the CSC run a very similar system that’s smoother. I think that’s something we could work to improve”, he added.
Commenting on the issues with the Trinity Sport website, Trinity Sport media and communications manager Gillian Neely said: “During freshers’ week there was a small proportion of first year Trinity College Dublin students who were affected by an error message when they attempted to activate their student card for the sport centre.”
“The team at Trinity Sport worked closely with Trinity IT department and our third party provider to promptly rectify the issue to ensure all students could activate their student cards and join a sport club online.”
“The issue has now been resolved for all first year students”, she added.
With sport gradually returning to its pre-pandemic level of activity Trinity’s sports clubs look set to emerge from the pandemic reinvigorated and ready to engage with the new student cohort.