What is it that makes people become volunteers? What is it that nudges them into giving up their time? I’ve been mulling over this lots recently, as both parts of my swimming life (gala mum v lido user) need more of them.
Recently I spent the day at Southbury Road Leisure Centre, the venue of a Middlesex Swimming Winter Development Meet, aka swimming gala. There were probably about 30 of us all dressed in white and gathered in a room for the officials’ meeting before the racing began. The President of the London Region stood up after all the poolside tasks had been allocated and safety briefing given, and donned his special chains of office. (Think Mayoral chains with lots of gold and ceremony.) He wanted us to pause and thank the volunteers who had served the region for the past 5 or 10 years, attending galas at weekends, standing poolside, getting quite wet. Each long timer was presented with a certificate and a pin badge, and thanked.
These volunteers, in their 60s and 70s are people are giving back to a sport long after their own children have stopped competing. What makes them do it? Without them competitive swimming would grind to a halt. In hindsight this low key ceremony should have taken place poolside, in front of swimmers and parents.
I had a very long break from volunteering, ie from sixth form through to 18 months ago. A 20 year gap of not pulling my weight or putting anything back. Caused partly by not really knowing how the swimming system worked. Now I’m proud to be a fledgling volunteer and a trainee official.
As I see it, there are definite upsides to being an official:
- if you’re going to have to get up very early to drive a child to a gala you might as well keep yourself busy rather than slumping back into the car or in the spectator rows
- it gives you something genuinely useful to do; any parent or carer who says they can ‘work’ whilst at a gala is fibbing. It’s hot, noisy and uncomfie = not conducive to work
- if you do get a chance to sit down you don’t have to fight someone for a seat, you have one allocated poolside
- you get to know the rules even better than your child (and actually having to learn something in detail is quite fun, stretches the brain in a different way to daily life)
- it brings you closer to your competing child, you’re there down on the poolside, at their level, able to keep an eye on their heats
- you get a free meal – don’t scoff – it is a luxury to be given a meal that you haven’t thought about, shopped for, prepped, made, served and washed up. So the catering might not be cordon bleu, but hey how nice to have someone else do it for you. And meanwhile you’re not responsible for what the rest of the family eat at home.
- you get to give something back into the system, just as other parents officiated for your children so now it’s your turn to keep a watchful eye on a younger generation of aspiring competitors
I brought up the topic of volunteering at the National Lido Conference I attended last month. I want to find out more about volunteering; how to be a better volunteer, how to work with volunteers and how to persuade more people to take up volunteering. At the conference a man who runs an outdoor swimming lake said the most useful thing for him was to know what people could do, and what their limits are – it’s in no one’s interest to promise more than you can deliver.
I’d like to know what magic thing it is that prompts retired people like the officials I saw honoured today into carrying on joining in decades after their kids have grown up and left a sport. Thank you uber volunteers.