The Biggest Loser

During my first eight years living in Austin, Texas, I managed an informal volleyball league that played one evening a week. Each Monday I emailed my volleyball contact list asking who wanted to play the following Tuesday evening. Over time, as first-time visitors turned into regulars, more people invited their friends, and steadily the email list grew. At the same time, those who became uninterested were pruned.

Some evenings we were starved for players, while others we had enough for three teams. Although the attendance varied week to week, there was one characteristic common to all attendees: Everyone came to play.

It’s all about the players

Now imagine if my volleyball email list grew such that people who were genuinely uninterested in playing volleyball were also on my list. What are some possible consequences?

  1. It would be difficult to tell by looking at the email list who genuinely valued playing in our volleyball league.
  2. The email list might grow to an unmanageable size, requiring extra cost/resources to maintain it.
  3. Uninterested people do not value or prioritize playing volleyball, so for a given week some will respond with “maybe”, when in fact they will be no-shows. This makes it very difficult to anticipate attendance week to week.
  4. If uninterested people happen to show up (e.g. to sit on the sidelines and just talk), they could be distracting to the people who are really there to play.

The problems, summarized: Difficulty gauging dedication, unmanageable growth, increase in unpredictable behavior, and more distractions to the dedicated.

However, is there an upside? SURE! Depending on the size of my league, I may be able to claim I run the largest volleyball league in Austin!

Is the distinction worth it?

When building a community, quality trumps quantity. Lauding that someone runs the biggest community of whatever doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy or successful community. Growing slowly and steadily with the right members engaged is the name of the game.