How a free app took Oxford's premiere rugby club to the next level - Ruck

How a free app took Oxford’s premiere rugby club to the next level

Like many passionate sports enthusiasts, Stu Wells took up the part-time position of Director of Rugby at Oxford Harlequins RFC out of a lifelong love for the sport, rather than for financial gain.

Stu, a former player and coach who now runs a successful software company based in Oxford, had previously worked with the junior section of the club, but going from that to managing over 22 squads of mixed age groups and genders, with over 1,500 individual members, was a totally different challenge.

After taking up the role in 2019 at Quins – one of the UK’s largest amateur grassroots sports clubs – Stu found himself spending evening after evening replying to hundreds of emails, numerous WhatsApp, Facebook and text messages, plus fielding calls from parents, players, and coaches, eating into precious family time. He knew there had to be an easier way.

“It was getting to the point where I needed to either develop super powers or find another way of managing things,” said Stu. “The volume of admin work was taking over my family time and eating into my day job, which isn’t ideal, especially when you’re doing something for the love of the game. It’s great to be committed to something, but it shouldn’t become all-consuming. That’s when I realised that something had to give, and my business background told me that a tech solution was probably the answer.”

Research has shown that Stu is not alone. Volunteers in grassroots sports are often overworked and overwhelmed. In a 2019 survey undertaken by Spond on the state of grassroots sports in the UK, one-third of team volunteers reported being genuinely concerned over financing and the future of their clubs, as well as their own capacity to devote the time and attention required. This problem has been significantly amplified by the pandemic, which Sport England research estimates may result in clubs having 15-20% fewer volunteers available to facilitate activities.

In his previous role with Quins, Stu had already overseen a comprehensive overhaul of communications in the club’s junior squads, including the introduction of the Spond team management app, and he realised that Spond’s Club solution could be rolled out across the entire organisation. Time required for admin is often cited as a key factor in putting off potential volunteers, especially those of working age, so anything that can reduce this burden can only be good for clubs like Quins.

Stu added: “We needed a way to effectively coordinate hundreds of games, training sessions and other events each week,” explains Stu. “More participation means more admin, so we need to make the most of the resources we have, which is where Spond really comes into its own, and it was important to have a single platform for coaches, players, members, parents and guardians of our junior players.

“The Spond Club solution allows us to manage all aspects of the club from a single interface and it means that we can communicate with every single member (be it a volunteer, player – junior or senior – parent or guardian) directly through the Spond App. That has been a game-changer.

“Our senior squads will typically have three players for each position, so I can put out a whole month of matches at a time and players will mark up their availability. As I know this info in advance, it’s possible to name the squad on a Monday, which means players can train with the right teammates on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in preparation for the weekend, but that’s just the start.”

Another key benefit of Spond’s sports team management software is the built-in tools to facilitate GDPR compliance and Safeguarding, especially when it comes to managing the junior squads. With hundreds of junior members to oversee, as well as the squads from Oxford Brookes University, whose rugby operation is managed in partnership with Quins, these features are a godsend for Stu and his coaching team.

Stu said: “Compliance with GDPR rules and requisite oversight for Safeguarding, particularly for younger members, can be a minefield. WhatsApp, for example, is a great tool, but there is no way to monitor and audit what is being said. With Spond, coaches and parents have oversight for all activities in the app, and Safeguarding measures are in place for any minors to ensure a completely safe environment.

“It’s also about knowing that messages are being received. In the old days, when I sent an email, I had no way of knowing if it was read or buried in a spam folder somewhere. With Spond, I press send and each recipient gets an instant notification on their phone. I can then see who has read it and who has responded. When you’re dealing with a club on this scale, I can’t overemphasise what a massive boon that is.

“Of course, this club did survive and function before we had Spond, but it was not the finely tuned machine we have now. Each coach would have their own systems in place and each squad would function very much as an individual entity. With so many challenges now facing Quins, it’s fair to say that the club management app came along at exactly the right time. We’re now able to coordinate communications, member engagement and activities far more effectively across individual teams, specific groups – such as the junior or senior sections – or across the entire club.”

Regardless of the size of the club or the sport being played, the benefits of Spond are clear. Spond is free to download, free to use and completely ad-free, with one million weekly users taking advantage of its unique features for effective sports club management, engagement and communication.

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