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A sense of belonging - James Turner

The State of the Scottish

James Turner is an accomplished runner and triathlete, a great clubman, and captain of the Scottish Men’s 50s. In his article on the State of the Scottish, he asks what Scottish can do to enhance the experience of members and prospective members.


Why did you join a running club? Or perhaps more importantly, why didn’t you? What motivates you as a runner? These are interesting and important questions for the future of sport. In the past being part of a club was the only way to gain entry to organised sport and key competitions, and it remains so for team sports in particular. But this paradigm is changing. For running and triathlon, it’s already no longer the case. While you do need to be a member of a club to compete in the individual harriers races during the winter cross country and road season, there is no barrier to entry for major events like the big marathons or Round the Bays. Similarly, for triathlon, anyone can compete at Ironman New Zealand or Challenge Wanaka, and thousands do. 10,000 people enter Round the Bays every year. Hundreds of people do the off-road Xterra runs in the autumn; how many of them are members of running clubs? Maybe 5 to 10%? In the Wellington region as a whole perhaps 1,000 people or so (of which a significant minority are under 18, who are often seeking coaching) are club members. Yes, we have a few races that you need to be a club member to take part in, but that’s only going to be a deciding factor for a relatively small number of people.

Sporting clubs and organisations that don’t move with the times will wither and die, in a world of “pay-to-play” and huge online “how to” resources. Informal and less structured groups such as Wellington Running Meetup (WoRM) have also stepped in to provide a supportive and community-focused environment for runners that doesn’t cost anything. Clubs like Scottish therefore need to have a clear proposition that encourages people to join and stay engaged when it’s perfectly possible to engage fully without any club affiliation in what is essentially an individual sport. So what should that proposition be? And how should clubs differentiate themselves from each other and from other “communities”? I think clubs need to reach out to people rather than requiring them to conform, to offer a range of options and opportunities relevant to people’s running aspirations and personal circumstances. I think Scottish has done quite a lot in the last couple of years to take steps in this direction and the club is all the better for it.

For me it is partly about those winter races. Yes I’m competitive, and want to race hard. But much more important than that, it’s about a sense of belonging. It’s about the shared experiences of a dynamic and diverse community of people. And all the while enabling and support me to be the runner I want to be, the person I want to be.

According to Aristotle, human beings are “social animals” and therefore naturally seek the companionship of others as part of their well-being. But being with others in social situations and developing and maintaining new social environments can be challenging and stressful. I’m a fairly gregarious person by nature, but I also need my solitary moments and experiences. In the past I used to run a lot on my own. It gave me an opportunity to think, to get away from stuff, and I didn’t really see running as a social thing. I would enter races and do them on my own, after having trained for them on my own. My energy could be directed 100% into the process of running. I didn’t see the need for running clubs or group training sessions. Running was a bit of an escape from social environments. I enjoyed those social environments but I also needed time on my own. The reality was somewhat more complicated of course. Deep down I think I did want to run with other people, at least sometimes if not all the time. I started running a bit with people from work, lunchtime runs, the chance to chat, connect, to get to know some like-minded people a bit better and in a different context. Shared experiences. It wasn’t just about the running. And after procrastinating for months I finally joined a running group at the local gym. But it wasn’t until ten years later, in 2011, that I finally joined Scottish, at the prompting of Karl Woodhead and Natalie Smith.

Now though, I can’t really imagine my life without the rampant lions. I love the range of people involved, and the opportunity it has given me to aspire to sporting goals and experiences, and to share in others’ journeys. Slogging through the mud at the Dorne Cup, chatting about life on the 34km Makara loop, watching the business end of the 10k road champs race unfold while actually taking part in it, pushing a bit harder than I thought was possible on that last rep on a Tuesday evening at Freyberg – these are all part of that rich tapestry of experiences. I couldn’t get that as a solo runner.

But for me, the most intense experiences, the most fun and the best memories are to be found in relays. In an individual sport, relays offer the chance to experience the best of team sports, to go deeper than you thought possible for your team-mates, and then to scream support as they push themselves to the limit and beyond. Even the long build-up to the National Road Relays is fun, planning out laps, working out how to get the best out of everyone. Others will have different motivations of course, and clubs like Scottish need to constantly adapt to make sure people see value in becoming and remaining part of our community.

 
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