By Kel Rowe
On any given Saturday, if you visit your local sports oval, you’ll probably see 36 footy players going head-to-head with the Sherrin in hand. Or maybe you’ll catch 11 cricketers out on the deck, waiting patiently to take the wicket of the opposition batter at the crease. Whatever your flavour, the boundary is often alive with chatter, coffees clasped tightly, and shouts of glee when the home side gets a win.
Whether you’re a player or a spectator, community sport plays a huge role in the social cohesion of the west, but it would be nothing without the countless hours, energy, and enthusiasm of the volunteers behind the scenes that pull it all together.
In Australia, an estimated 2.9 million people volunteer in sport annually, playing a critical part in the running of community sports clubs filling roles like coach, committee member or canteen manager. For some, it’s a great way to participate, connect with others, and be a part of the sporting community without actually playing a sport. For others, it’s the sense of service and helping their peers that keeps them coming back.
David Watson, Vice President (Facilities) at West Footscray Football Club, has been involved with community sports clubs for most of his life, and acknowledges that his mindset for volunteering was first instilled by his family. “I was always encouraged that if you are going to participate at a sporting club, you must help where you can,” he says.
“I was always a helper. In my first year of playing football, the club that I played for had a veranda in front of the clubrooms and the players would clean their boots there after training and leave the mess. I would often see some committee members sweep up and thought that it was something I could help with; within two years I was the Club Treasurer.”
In his current role at West Footscray, not much has changed. If the clubrooms are open, you will often find Watson there, doing thankless paperwork tasks, helping behind the bar, or assisting other volunteers to find their feet.
Like Watson, it was Lorey Bentley’s family ties to sport that landed her in her first volunteering role as the First Aid person at her oldest son’s Auskick centre. Bentley, who currently holds a Ball Kids Strategy and Operations Lead role with Tennis Australia, says it quickly led to her taking on a myriad of other jobs at the football club, including team manager, trainer, and junior administrator.
Bentley’s current volunteer roles read like a full-time job. “I am on the board of my football and cricket clubs, I am the team manager for my youngest son’s football team, and I coach his basketball team,” she reels off. Behind the scenes, Bentley also manages the social media of both Williamstown Super Rules Football Club and Gellibrand Cricket Club.
When asked about why she takes on such responsibility as a volunteer, Bentley’s response is simple. The positive impact of volunteering motivates her to set a standard for others, but most importantly, she can be a role-model to her two sons.
“Once you start volunteering you learn things about the administration of the sport, and how you can then use this knowledge to support others to get involved. I have made a lot of friends through my volunteer work”.
The positive impacts of volunteering can help you get through challenging times
Friendship and social connection are the biggest motivators for Libby Howe, who began volunteering when her son started local cricket as a junior. It was during that time that her husband was also diagnosed with brain cancer, and Howe says the love and support received during this period from amazing, now life-long, friends will never be forgotten.
Howe currently lends her time to the Western Region Junior Cricket Association Executive, manages representative cricket teams, and plays a volunteer role on the Druids Cricket Club Junior Committee. She says one of the biggest challenges in getting more folk involved in volunteering is the lack of motivation, resources, and time that people have to give to their local club.
Bentley agrees, saying “There will always be a core group of people that will offer their time and expertise, but more and more, clubs are having to get creative about how they get volunteers to help out.”
Once clubs are able to attract keen volunteers, Watson notes that sometimes compliance can present a barrier to retention. “There is a duty of care for volunteers to follow strict rules (sometimes law) and that comes with lots of responsibility, which can take the fun out of it,” he says. Despite the challenges, all three believe that the personal satisfaction and connection that volunteering brings and keeps folk coming back.
“For me, the best feeling I can get is leaving the place in a better way than I found it,’ Watson reflects. “I get a real kick out of people improving, whether it’s something as simple as helping to improve a player’s skill in kicking or a Junior Team Manager doing a great job, after I have offered them a small amount of support, it’s great.”
Volunteers like Watson, Bentley and Howe are crucial cogs in the round-by-round running of local sport; but more than anything, these folk are truly the heart, soul and backbone of their community clubs.