Dean Bartlett, the newly appointed CEO of Bowls Auckland, is enjoying a fast and furious introduction to the bowls community in New Zealand’s largest lawn bowls centre.
Dean hasn’t yet been a bowler. Well, not in the lawn bowling sense. He has been a ‘bowler’ as a contracted player with Auckland Cricket between 2010 and 2014. And a very good one at that … including a first-class record which boasts a 5-wicket bag against Otago!
He’s even played cricket for Oxford in England in their local championship league.
“They got a much better deal when they replaced me as the overseas player with Tim Paine (the former Australian Cricket Captain)!” laughs Dean.
Dean follows a well-beaten path of people moving from cricket to lawn bowls … which has included the likes of Mark Cameron, Chris Lander, and Erin Nurkka. Maybe it’s the appeal of under-arm bowling rather than over-arm bowling. Or the challenge of getting a hard round ball to the end of a 33 metre infinitely variable grass track rather than just a 22 yard one.
But what experience Dean lacks in lawn bowls, is more than made up for his community management skills. “I was GM for the Cornwall Cricket Club for a couple of years,” he says. “Before becoming General Manager, Community of the Auckland Cricket Association, looking after and out for 16 plus cricket clubs, 6 districts and over 50 colleges.”
“This job’s a bit of a step up … there’s 40 clubs in the Centre. And one of my first jobs is to get around all those clubs and listen to what they have to say.”
And as you’d expect, Dean’s finding that some clubs he’s already visited have a lot to say!
“That’s great!” he says. “It means that they’re passionate about their clubs. It’s clearly emerging that bowls in Auckland has a fantastic foundation, but there is plenty of opportunity to add value and get more people playing and enjoying bowls. To do so, it’s vital that we (Bowls Auckland) ensure we are operating in the best way we can and have the support and confidence of the club network.”
That’ll become Dean’s short-term challenge as 2023 starts. “But I’m also looking at the bigger picture, and what needs to happen at Bowls Auckland to give better support to the clubs, and promote the game in the Auckland community.”
“We don’t want to see our clubs just survive … we want them to thrive!”
The challenge to thrive is the same for every bowling club … as it is for every sports club ... and for that matter, as it is for any club that members have clubbed together to create.
“It’s about ‘exposing bowls’ to the public,” says Dean. “How do we bring our bowling clubs to the people … and make our game accessible to anyone and everyone who wants to enjoy a lawn bowls experience.”
“That’s not as simple as I’ve made it sound … because what the club needs to do to attract new members may not be what the club continues to do for the enjoyment of its current members.”
“’Thriving’ clubs will work out how to do both at the same time.”
“That may be in the format or type of bowls they offer … which meets the wishes of both current and prospective members … both competitive and social bowlers … the ‘time poor’ and those with time on their hands.”
“It may be in the diversity of membership the club portrays to the world … as a club that provides a comfortable environment for those of any gender, any age, any ethnicity or any capability.”
“It may also be in the way the club behaves … as a club that presents itself competitively or socially.”
“The challenge is not unique to bowls. I found it was the same in cricket. And I’m sure it’s the same in every other sport.”
“One thing I have noticed is that bowling clubs are very busy places!. I’ve already been to bowling clubs where there’s people there every day … even playing bowls every day.
“That’s great. It shows that bowls has a real place in our community,”