Building Community in a Large Urban Gym – South Loop Strength & Conditioning

Building Community in a Large Urban Gym

As we think about ways to improve what we’re doing at SLSC, one of the things that keeps coming up is “community.”
I’ve talked about this more than a few times in this newsletter, but this is something that I don’t think we’ve quite figured out.
I’ve also mentioned some of the challenges that we have in growing our sense of community:
•Once you have more than ~150 members, a lot of the organic sense of community dissipates and members instead start to form subsets of community within the larger group. Ideally, these groups get along and don’t have drama between them. 🙂
•We have a high percentage of commuting members – people who are hurrying off to work or hurrying home after their workout are less likely to want to hang around the gym, which is when those organic interactions happen that build a sense of community.
There’s a high opportunity cost and a high transaction cost to socializing in major urban environments. Meaning – most people have a lot of other stuff that they could be doing, like working, attending events, obligations with other social groups, etc. (Which I actually think leads to overwhelm and inaction in a lot of cases.) And, it’s difficult to get people to do things because of friction due to parking, transportation costs, traffic, etc. Many suburban gyms don’t have these issues since people have fewer options as far as ways to spend their time, and there is much less friction to attending events.
•We value best practices more than fun and community. From a cultural perspective, we are much more concerned with doing things correctly in terms of long-term development of fitness and skills than we are with having fun or socializing. These things aren’t necessarily at odds, but there are some trade-offs here. So, not only is there a top-down focus on best practices, but the types of people who are attracted to SLSC are probably the types of people who tend to undervalue social interaction. If we’re talking big five personality modeling, this would be dialing up the conscientiousness knob and dialing down the extraversion knob. This may also be related to certain extreme personality tendencies that an unnamed individual in a leadership position at SLSC may have. (If you click through, ignore the gendered language related to concepts of empathizing and systemizing, but I do think these are still relevant abstractions to pull from personality concepts)
None of these are meant to be excuses, just some musings on why the sense of community may be somewhat lacking.
But, I don’t think that’s the primary issue impeding our ability to grow a sense of community within SLSC.
I was struck with an insight while having a conversation with a member recently.
This member was suggesting that we should have more social activities, and I said something like, “I don’t disagree, but I’ve never seen you at any of the events that we do have.”
Response: “Well, none of the people who I know go to the events, so why would I go and just feel awkward the whole time?”
This makes so much sense, but is also a challenging chicken and egg type of scenario.
People want social events, but they don’t want to go unless their friends are going. So, how do we get traction with social events?
Well, I figure I can start with a request and a suggestion—
Hey all of you extroverts out there, can you do me a favor and plan on coming to OUTWOD and also go out of your way to personally invite people who you encounter regularly? 
It’s not enough to have flyers up in the gym, have a Facebook event, or even send compelling long-form e-mails. People need to know that someone who they know and feel comfortable around is going to be there and is expecting them to attend.
Otherwise, it’s too easy to give in nagging feelings of social anxiety and stay at home fiddling on your phone or streaming Flix instead.

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