Last sports club standing? | RNZ News

The upholstery is fading and members are ageing at sports clubs across New Zealand and some are only just holding the seams together.

The Newlands-Paparangi Tennis Club in Wellington is one of a number of clubs in New Zealand feeling the strain of declining memberships.

Photo: RNZ / Bridget Tunnicliffe

A survey of sports clubs in New Zealand has revealed nearly two-thirds of them are either losing money or breaking-even.

And in the New Zealand Amateur Sport Association’s inaugural national survey of clubs, 22 percent of respondents said their memberships had fallen over the past five years.

Statistics like that come as no surprise to Barry Teale, the club captain at Wellington’s Newlands-Paparangi Tennis Club.

That’s been their reality for a few years now but they keep going thanks to a few volunteers who go about their jobs with minimum fuss.

Lyn McAnulty is on the committee and has been at the club for 20 odd years and still plays as much as she can.

Lyn who is also a past president is the type who will check the smoke alarms or run the vacuum around before a committee meeting.

Lyn McAnulty running the vacuum before a committee meeting.
Photo: RNZ / Bridget Tunnicliffe

The last one-club man?

Barry Teale has been involved in the club for 40 years and said it had given him a lot.

“I’ve just made a huge number of friends at the club, they’ve become my personal friends over the years and so we’ve just stayed together …it’s become a habit it I suppose.”

But it’s not like it used to be.

Barry Teale is the club captain at Newlands-Paparangi Tennis Club in Wellington and has been with the club for 40 years.
Photo: RNZ / Bridget Tunnicliffe

When Barry started 40 years ago they had 68 seniors – now the have just nine.

“There’s a huge number of clubs struggling, some of the big power clubs like Khandallah and Thorndon have a lot of people and a lot of people congregate there and because they’ve got that critical mass of people playing it’s quite a good place to go and play …the smaller clubs tend to struggle and die.

“Over the summer months you could come down here between now and February and fire a machine gun and hit no one, there won’t be anybody playing. There might be one or two or four people of our nine seniors, maybe four of them will get together and come and have a hit once a week …but this place is terribly unused.

“It’s just the way of the world and the way people live now, they don’t go into clubs and there’s just so much to do, there’s a thousand entertainment options opposed to playing tennis including your own phone.”

The club has a strong junior programme but the young ones seem to disappear as soon as they leave school.

So where do all the juniors go?

“If we had an answer we might be able to solve it.”

“There is no one that plays in this club between the age of 17 and 30 and it has been that way for the last five years, maybe longer. Kids just have so many more other things to do. I don’t think tennis is seen as cool anymore, they’ve got their phones, a lot of them are working in the weekends. They just disappear and then they have a family and then we never see them again, sometimes until they’re 40 and then they come back and play.”

Newlands-Paparangi Tennis Club in Wellington has just nine senior members.
Photo: RNZ / Bridget Tunnicliffe

How have they managed to survive to this point?

“We’ve been managed fantastically by treasurers over the years who’ve been really really good and very frugal and putting money away in the good times and we survive a huge amount on pokie grants who pay for an awful lot of our coaching and expenses.”

Clubs are increasingly having to think outside the box and join forces with other sports.

“About seven-eight years ago we had to make a deal with hockey so that hockey run this place for six months and we run it for the other six because we couldn’t afford to foot the bills for a full year, otherwise we would have gone bust long ago.”

Barry remembers the halcyon days of club life in the 70s, 80s and early 90s when people used to form a social life around sports clubs.

They used to have a bar but had to give it up when the rules and regulations became too much and they had to have a licensed bar manager.

“A number of people in the local area used to come down and drink on a Sunday and we used to have quite long drinking and playing sessions. But I think the world’s changed a bit as well, people don’t have that free time on a Sunday to come and congregate.”

“I do miss the people and the socialising.”

How much longer can the club survive?

“Not long, the people running it are people such as me, who are well over 60 and a number of other people and when we go the club will fold.”

Never too late

Matt Easton turned up to the club about two months ago for a casual hit.

The 28-year-old played a bit of cricket, soccer and touch rugby at school but never really played tennis before.

He thought he would give tennis a go as a way to keep fit over summer.

“The thing I was a bit nervous about was thinking that everyone was going to be a super star really and I showed up and it’s great to see people of different abilities and stuff and I’ve fitted right in.”

He said he was missing the competitive aspect of sport.

“I get out and I run and do that sort of thing and go to the gym but you can’t really beat competitive sport when you’ve got opposition, yeah I think I had been missing that.”

Paula Pollock started playing tennis three years ago after taking time out to raise her kids.

“I wanted to play sport, I’d been going to the gym but I’ve been at home raising the kids for the past 10 or 12 years and I wasn’t working and I wanted a way of meeting people and just socialising and so tennis seemed like a good way to do it as well as trying to keep fit.

“I find a gym quite an independent kind of activity and more so I don’t have someone I go to the gym with so it’s not the right environment to meet people, I go at all different times of the day.”

Paula Pollock getting ready for a serve from Jon Nanson – both are on the Newlands-Paparangi Tennis Club committee.
Photo: RNZ / Bridget Tunnicliffe

Paula joined the committee this year.

“I’ve got to know everyone really well over the last couple of years and it’s a really good way to pay it back and get to know people a bit better.”

She said she had noticed a lack of adults playing tennis.

“I’ve been playing inter-club tennis and it’s something that you can see across every club. I don’t think people take the time to get involved in sport so much, they get their kids involved but don’t seem to find the time as adults. A lot of the club members are either the juniors or they’re in their 50s, 60s, and 70s – they are still really active and quite competitive senior players so they’ve been active in the club for a long time.”

She said they had done quite a lot of work to try to attract new players.

“I definitely think it’s worth having these things in the areas in people’s local communities. I think it’s quite sad seeing the courts getting run down and the buildings really run down and you have probably 10 or 12 people working really hard to keep these places running. I think they add a lot of value to the communities and it would be good to see them keep going.”

Jon Nanson is in his second year on the committee.

He’s been a part of club four about six years. Before that he had only just mucked around as a kid after school with friends playing tennis.

But he missed sport.

“I’d always done a bit but tennis was something I thought would be interesting to have another go at because I always liked it but just never really given it a good go.”

“I think a lot of clubs have quite a few juniors but a lot of clubs like us probably struggle with the seniors.”

He said socially it was nice to get out and do something and getting around the court with people was good fun.

“Just give it a go, come along have a try, if you like it great, if you don’t you haven’t missed out on anything but if you don’t give it a try you’re never going to know.”