A letter in my local newspaper this week pointed out that a junior football club was in danger of folding because it didn’t have enough volunteers to coach the children.

To be fair, this isn’t just true with football. All clubs have the same problem, and it can be exacerbated by the load falling on a limited number of people within the club.

Over the years, I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs and groups, either because of my children or – more often – because of a personal interest. At present, for instance, I’m a member of a speakers club, a local amateur theatre group and (no surprise!) a sailing club.

I joined the Speakers Club because I wanted to practice and improve as a public speaker. I don’t do much away from the club, but it means that when I do I’m more competent than I otherwise might be.  The club meets monthly and presents a variety of opportunities to practice your skills.

The theatre’s different. I’d been a few times to watch plays, but then my partner was encouraged to join and participate in productions, which got me more interested.  Becoming a member gave me the right to watch five plays in the season for the price of four, and I go along to be entertained.

I’ve talked enough about the sailing elsewhere, so won’t say more here. What it demonstrates, though, is that there are three separate groups with three separate benefits for me.  But they all have something in common: they rely on volunteers.

Inevitably, there are individuals who just take what they want. They might have a big speech coming up, and use club facilities to get feedback on how to improve, only to vanish when the big day’s come and gone.  They may want to simply watch a play, have a drink and generally have a good night out.  They may want to borrow a club boat when they feel like it, sail for an hour or two, then go home.  Or, in the case of a junior football club, they may want to drop their offspring off for a couple of hours of low cost child care while they go and do some shopping.

What rarely seems to cross the minds of those individuals is that the facilities wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for other people being willing to make them happen.

Someone has to organise and plan speakers club meetings to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to practice and expand their experience.

When it comes to a theatre production, I am reliably informed that, in order to provide all the facilities an audience expects (box office, bar, teas and coffees, ice cream, programmes) during an eight night run, over 100 roles need to be filled. And remember, no account is taken there of the cast or production crew.

And let’s not forget the football clubs that started this little commentary. Managers have to go on courses to learn how to work with children and how to coach the game.  They have to set aside time to plan and implement training, coordinate with other teams to arrange matches, attend meetings within their own club and the leagues they’re involved in, and (rain or shine) turn out every weekend to manage their team – home or away.

Other clubs and organisations will have similar stories to tell.

The letter in the paper was asking for people to step up and take on coaching and managing teams. But taking on those big jobs isn’t the only part that can be played.  By volunteering to chair the occasional meeting, man a bar for a couple of evenings, or do some administration for your club manager, you can make the bigger jobs easier.  And if you do that, those bigger jobs become less daunting because the individuals taking them on know they’ll get support.

I say all this from experience. I am on a committee, but only one.  I will, though, offer extra support to the other groups.  If more people do that, the load is shared.  Even if you really can’t spare any time to help out at the moment, look for opportunities in the future.  And, if all else fails, remember that everyone you see helping out is doing it for no financial reward.

They may be getting other rewards, of course. When I work a bar, I get to enjoy banter I wouldn’t ordinarily experience.  When I’ve prepared and chaired a meeting that goes really well, I know it’ll stand me in good stead for running work-related events.  And, although my son is now in his twenties, I rarely walk down the street without meeting someone who became a friend through the work I did for his football club.

So please do look for opportunities to help. It’ll make the club run smoother, it’ll expand your circle of friends, and you’ll learn new skills.  And it’s also more likely that the group you benefit from will still be there for you to use in the future.  That’s more than a win/win situation, isn’t it?

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