St. Johns County 4-H has offered the Intro to Archery Summer Day Camp since 2013. During the two-day camp (14 hours), youth learn range safety, proper shooting form, have extensive range time, learn about the trajectory of an arrow, and at the end of camp, play archery games. Summer day camp participants were given preference when registering for the Toxophily (love of the bow) 4-H Archery Club. Youth who did not attend summer day camp (and had no basic archery knowledge) were still able to join the club if there was room.
When non-campers joined the club, club leaders spent the first few meetings reviewing safety protocol and teaching basic shooting form, leaving little shooting time. Bored, returning members were disengaged listening to basic concepts. New and returning members functioned as two separate groups instead of as one club. The opportunity to create a cohesive team of youth with shared goals was diminished. This lowered the chance of creating a sense of belonging for all members. The leaders knew something had to change.
In 2019, a new strategy was employed. To be a member of the Toxophily 4-H Archery Club, youth needed to attend both days of the two-day summer camp. The leaders also used the camp to identify youth who may jeopardize the safety of others, thus not being appropriate for the club. Because of this policy, the club started out very differently.
A safety issue came up at camp that year. A youth that refused to follow safety directions and pointed a loaded bow at another camper was deemed inappropriate for the club. We met with the parent and explained the situation prior to club registration. She admitted that he had behavior problems that might cause him to act this way. Hearing that he behaved as she feared, she agreed that the club was not a good fit for him.
At the first meeting in September, a full business meeting was held with plenty of range time. The members began shooting as soon as the whistle was blown instead of waiting for new members to figure out the first steps. New members needing individual attention were given such without slowing down the group. The returning members were more likely to help the new members because they didn’t have to teach them the basics. They gave the new members tips to improve their shooting while still having time to shoot themselves.
In 2019, the retention rate of both new and returning members was higher than in prior years. Both skill levels functioned as one club. The leaders’ satisfaction also increased. They believed they were making a larger impact on the members’ shooting ability and achieving a greater sense of belonging. They also had more time to help all levels of shooter because the newer members didn’t need as much individual attention as in the past.
As a result of campers transitioning to club members, the club leaders noticed that all club members were more engaged. They also found that camp attendees were more likely than non-camp attendees to remain in the club. Leaders said it is probable that club members had common goals and worked as a team because summer day camp functioned as a prerequisite for club membership.
Because the prerequisite requirement was such a success in 2019 and there were no summer day camps in 2020, new club members were not accepted last year. In 2021, the Intro to Archery Summer Day Camp was offered again and the prerequisite requirement for club membership continued. Fifteen campers participated and 13 of them reported that they intended to join the club in September.