How to support sports volunteers

Michelle Daltry, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, highlights the importance of valuing the huge contribution that sports volunteers make to the industry. She shares her personal experience and advice for organisations to support volunteers.

Keep reading to learn more.

Sport has always played a huge part in my life, and from a very young age I have been fortunate enough to be part of some amazing sports clubs and groups.

Sport allowed me to connect with people I would never had the opportunity to meet, to be introduced to the rich tapestry of diversity outside the small bubble of my world, to travel the world and develop skills and gain experiences that I would never have had otherwise. 

Sport helped me improve my health and wellbeing and the place I always felt happiest was on the hockey pitch.

The one thing that made all these things a reality were volunteers. Keep reading to learn more on how to effectively support sports volunteers.

What is a sports volunteer?

Volunteers give up their free time to give back to the sport they love or just to make a difference within their local community.

There are many types of volunteers in sport, and they can undertake a huge selection of roles. The majority of sporting or leisure organisations will have volunteers who work there.

The benefits of having sport volunteers

As I came to write this blog, I began to reflect on the huge impact volunteers have had on my life. As a child I grew up in rural North Wales and came from a lower socioeconomic background.

My family did all they could to support me but there were limits to what they could manage. It was volunteers who enabled my sporting career to develop and flourish. 

People who drove me to events across the country when my parents couldn’t, people who helped to fundraise so I could attend major events, people who gave up their free time to help my dream become a reality.

For me personally, there are many benefits of volunteering in sport. Volunteering helped me switch off from work, make new friends, learn new skills and has definitely been a real bonus for my mental health. The reasons to volunteer are endless.

There are so many benefits to having sport volunteers within organisations, here are a few:

  • They will be able to gain a huge amount of experience.
  • They can demonstrate their passion for sport in new ways.
  • They can provide opportunities to people that otherwise may have struggled.
  • They help with funds for organisations (it is estimated by the Bank of England that volunteers contribute around 40bn to the UK economy).

Why should sporting organisations encourage volunteers?

Volunteer roles in sport are a great way for people to get their foot in the industry, or to return to it, depending on their circumstances.

Sports volunteers are people who have a true passion for sport and want to express that passion through their actions.

Organisations should actively encourage volunteers, understand the importance of volunteers in sport and focus on how to support them effectively.

How to support volunteers in sport

Volunteers in sport are the supportive structure of the organisations. Although people are volunteering in their free time and on their own accord, they must be supported and treated well.

Here are some tips on how to support volunteers in sport.

Be organised

Although this might seem simple – volunteers must know the rules or regulations in place at your organisation.

Make sure to be organised and update the volunteer on your policy, guidance and how they can work to the best of their ability.

Give them structured tasks

When people are volunteering in their free time, it’s better for them to have structure and an idea of what exactly they’ll be doing. Nobody wants to turn up somewhere and have nothing to do!

Have a list of jobs and tasks, make the volunteer feel needed and make them feel like they’re making a difference.

Celebrate their contributions

Volunteers may feel isolated from the organisation’s successes. It’s important that your organisation celebrates their achievements and contributions and explains how they’re impacting the bigger picture.

Make it special

Volunteering is an opportunity for people to gain valuable experience. As much as possible, try to make this special and memorable for the volunteer.

Communicate clearly

Make sure you’re communicating clearly with your volunteers. Ask them what they need, what they’d like to be doing, how everything is going.

Small methods of communication like this can open up conversations and allows both the volunteer and organisation to get the best they can from the experience.

Give opportunities

When volunteers are at organisations, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn new things. Make sure you give opportunities for the volunteer to develop new skills.

Appreciate them

Most importantly, appreciate the volunteers in your organisation. These people are helping an organisation because it’s their passion.

It’s crucial to appreciate the job they are doing and not to brush over the impact they are having.

My personal experience as a volunteer in sports

Since moving away from hockey and recognising how much I missed volunteering, I have volunteered for a number of different charities and organisations. 

I have supported a charity for actors with learning disabilities through fundraising, I have set up and established an LGBT+ Sport network in Wales, I’ve delivered food parcels during lockdown and volunteered at a Taste Ramadan event.

Of course, I’m not listing all of these things for you to think I’m a good person or to get a pat on the back but more to help show the range of different volunteering opportunities that are available.

Often people think volunteering means a huge long-term commitment but that doesn’t always have to be the case, sometimes a few hours of your time or skills can be more than enough.

Final thoughts

The 1st -7th June is Volunteers Week, a week to say thank you and celebrate the amazing contributions of volunteers but don’t forget it’s never too late to start volunteering. 

If you’re a member please get in touch with your account manager if you would like to learn more about supporting volunteers in your workplace.

If you’re not yet a member, contact us to find out more about membership and see how we can help you support volunteers in your organisation.