April 4, 2016

3 Cheers for the Volunteers

Written by:
Bruce Aitchison

I think every club has one.

Every club I’ve been at definitely did. My last one was called Pete. Before that Keith. And the one before that was Iain. Dennis is another one, an unique individual who’s like you have never seen before and are unlikely to see ever again. And I know one called Heppy too. I know for sure that there are many, many more out there, but I just haven’t met them yet or haven’t heard their name, but I know them.

Who are these folk? They’re never in the paper. They don’t score tries or get to walk up the steps. They seldom get thanked and they never look for any praise. But they are the most deserving in the club game.

So who are they?

The unsung Volunteer Heroes of Club Rugby throughout the world.

As a Club Player and Coach I have been involved with great clubs, had success and tough times too. For every preseason, every training session, game at home or away the players are prepared by the team of coaches and led by the captain. Whatever the result the coaches and the players are the focus of attention. If you look closely, really closely, you’ll see someone else beavering away around the main event. Picking up strips, putting out the cones and warm up equipment, filling the water bottles, hanging the strips, organising the replacements, running on with the kicking tee, fixing the walkie talkies, putting out the flags or putting pads on the posts, speaking to the referee, writing the team sheet, showing the away team the changing room or handing out the meal tickets. This is the stuff you might see, if you look closely. But there is even more before that.

There is also the bus booking, strip washing, referee contacting, Union liaising, player registering, contract discussing, equipment ordering, physio managing, selection sharing, attendance monitoring, mascot organising, balls to be blown up for training and different ones for games, bib washing (although only once a season…), pitch booking… and a lot more I have no doubt that even I haven’t seen. All done by a volunteer giving up their time because they want to contribute to the club, for nothing in return other than the reward of being part of something.

These people need thanks and to feel appreciated as my major concern for the club game is that these volunteers will disappear. They are already. The club game is a funny old thing. Although it takes a significant amount of money to run a club, it also takes a workforce, the majority of whom are volunteers. Committees now have to think cleverly about the roles and remits of the volunteers or committee positions. Proposing and seconding potential candidates at the AGM has been replaced by hoping whoever it is that seems to have done it since it was 3 points for a try will continue in the role. I once thanked a Fixture Secretary at an end of season dinner and he came up to me afterwards and said that was the first time he’d ever been thanked! Ouch! Organising fixtures from preseason to the end of the 7s season for all of the teams in the club, not just the 1st XV, is a big job that needs done, and it deserves thanks! He deserved thanks!

Players and coaches move clubs a lot more regularly, players don’t play for the club of their dad and uncles and grandads and meet their wife at a club social as often as years gone by. Life is changing and the habit of being a player and then staying on at a club to be a coach, manager, fixture secretary, treasurer, secretary, president, chairman is becoming rarer and rarer. Players take a huge amount from the game, and now players often take an amount of money (whether in kind or in cash) from the game. But the trend is becoming that the players walk away completely when they retire, heading instead to run marathons and triathlons, Tough Mudders or Spartan races which can be done when it fits into the ever busier schedule of modern life, and not needing the commitment of a an ever longer rugby season and its huge all-consuming demand on time and energy.

So the volunteers in the game at the moment are even more important than ever, as the back fill from players retiring is drying up. Are there any solutions? Of course, there are always solutions, some are easy and some are lot more difficult to nail down or see happening without a cultural change.

Here’s my ideas…

  1. The rugby season should be shorter and the timings be changed. It’s not a new discussion but I think people would be happier volunteering in better weather.

  1. Players being aware of the need to ‘sweep the sheds’. Many hands make light work and too many ‘expect’ to be treated like professionals. Being a good person should be the priority.

  1. Clubs need to assess their structure and see if they can adapt the roles for the modern game. IT, Social Media and mobile phones should make it easier to manage members, sponsorship, advertising and communication. It can also be done at the convenience of the volunteer, rather than around the table at a committee meeting.

  1. Clubs and governing bodies should look to educate players as early as possible that the growth of the game is dependent on volunteers and encourage players to get involved in the ‘business’ of the club while they are still playing.

  1. Volunteers should be recognised at every opportunity, at the end of season dinner, on club websites and Social Media but most of all, a ‘thank you’ from the people they help and support would be the biggest, most powerful way to make them realise how appreciated they are.

So the next time you see them, thank them, because without them, we wouldn’t have the club or the game we know and love.

Happiness is Egg Shaped.

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