How to attract young people

We think we should not only focus on the press, which reports extensively about plenty of sports, including pigeon racing. We should also provide information using modern media: television and of course the internet, which has loads of possibilities.

What are the possibilities?

We should provide information about the history of the flight lines, the geographical location of countries along the lines, as well as some information about the earth and the stars in the sky. Orientation marks used by racing pigeons, coordinates and an explanation about meridians or vertical circles, including of course the equator, the two tropics and the polar circles. This is something that could be interesting to outsiders as well.

There are so many things about our atmosphere and the earth that can arouse the interest of the younger generation. It seems that kids of today have a broader interest compared to previous generations. First you have to get their attention before you can convince them to do a sport. These are some of the possibilities that we can use to attract the youth. And then there is the game itself. I have always been convinced that we should move to a more democratic approach for our sport and the way it is organised. We need more young decision makers. It is important for young fanciers to be able to voice their opinion.

The youth should not be obliged to bet money; the stakes are already too high and there is no reasonable explanation for this (not from a legal point of view either). Shouldn’t it be enough to just to pay for the travel costs and the rent of a timing system? Is it necessary to have a stake? We could just let the fanciers pay for the travel costs and let them decide for themselves whether or not to bet on their pigeons. This would not put the professional players at a disadvantage. After all they can bet as much as they want without hindering the other fanciers.

It is a fact that the number of fanciers significantly decreases as the season proceeds, both in the old bird and the young bird competitions. If we would keep the competition free of obligations and without obligatory flights everybody would be able to join in: the youth, the retired, the jobless and fathers of families. Many sports would not be able to survive without commercial interests. That explains why non professional athletes are nowhere to be found in for instance skiing, tennis or athletics. And yet the younger generation finds its way to these sports thanks to publicity and democratisation. In order to attract more young fanciers we have to make our sport less expensive. The more pigeons that are carried the cheaper transport will become! A young fancier who has to pay a lot of money just to train his team of young birds will lose his motivation right from the start.  This is what it’s all about: we have to provide information, we have to promote our sport, we should make television documentaries and most of all the sport should be free, especially for newcomers. Specialized magazines can publish articles about the theory of the sport and about history and geography. Who knows, such magazines might attract hundreds of thousands of readers.

So it is important to think about how we bring our sport to the public. Next we have to reconsider the sport itself. Our sport has a high degree of specialization, just like any other sport. This is very common these days. A fancier who wants to compete with the greatest champions of today has no choice but to specialise in one single discipline: sprint (up to 300km), middle distance (500km), long distance (700km) or extreme long distance (over 700km). Some fanciers have decided to focus exclusively on the young birds competition. This is something new and it deserves its place in pigeon racing as well, especially in Belgium. Anybody who focuses on two different competitions can already be considered a semi professional racer. A beginner should take small steps; he has to focus on his very first loft. If you want to keep a dog you will have to build him a kennel first! You can start by reading some books about bloodlines and you can try to make a few good choices. You should also learn more about how to maintain your pigeons; you can always ask other fanciers for information. Read magazines and visit a vet. These guidelines apply to pigeons as they apply to any other domestic animal.

Breeding pigeons is a different story altogether. This is the most important aspect of pigeon racing. Pigeons need more attention than any other animal. Taking care of pigeons and breeding them is something that takes time to learn. Make no mistake: the younger generation is eager to learn new things. We are convinced that the younger generation is also interested in learning the art of pigeon fancying. The only difference with other sports is that do not have a coach or a trainer. This is something that our sport lacks. That is why it is our task to help young fanciers make a good start.

I think we have a very motivated new generation but the older fanciers seem to neglect that. It seems that we do not really care and we think those beginners will find their own way one day. Sometimes I have the impression that the new generation is actually more ambitious compared to our generation at that age. They are more brave and more independent. So we should give them a helping hand. Imagine what would happen if every fancier helped one newcomer. It would double the number of fanciers in our country!

The Ichtor children, a great example

Where to start?

They can start anywhere: in a small shed, above the garage, somewhere under a roof, etc. The attic is a good place to start. You should keep the interior simple. For instance I housed my first late youngsters in wooden crates. You should start with only a group of late youngsters. You have to learn to feed them and to get accustomed to them. You only have to spend money on feed and a small window or a hollow tile. The best way for a starter to get used to the pigeons is by working with youngsters only. This is my first piece of advice and we will provide additional information about how to feed the pigeons and how to keep pigeons throughout the season. Anybody who wants to become a fancier should begin with young birds. It is fairly complicated to start with old birds. More importantly, it will help you develop an important skill: patience.

Patience is key

Patience is important for newcomers but also for dyed-in-the-wool fanciers. Be patient and try to become friends with your group of late youngsters. Learn how to feed them and get to know them. Try to discover when they are ready to build their first nest. You do not have to spend on luxuries. Simply learn how to use a nest bowl; fill it with some straw, some tobacco stalks, fir needles or birch twigs. Try to understand what they want. Observe them when they are looking for a nest and notice how they become angry or jealous. Learn more about the pigeons you are about to breed. That should do it for now. Begin with a round of late youngsters from a fancier you trust and ask for advice.

I would love to assist a beginner after every racing season. How about you?