National Sports Policy – Volunteer Engagement

Volunteering

The Government has sought input from those with an interest in Irish Sport on how to frame a new national Sports policy for the next decade.  

This is the first time in 20 years that such a framework will be adopted at Government level and it is a crucial opportunity to put sport into its important context as part of overall Government thinking.

The Key Areas of interest and the Sport for Business views on each are as follows:

Where are the skills gaps in the sport workforce?

Sport relies heavily on a committed and passionate volunteer cohort.  It could not thrive at grassroots and community level without it and yet it is not without its problems.

Passion is a volatile fuel and can run empty if the demands outweigh the willingness to engage.

As sport grows ever more complex and demanding in terms of regulation, finance and governance there will be a pinch point in terms of the willingness or ability of volunteers to give as high a level of skilled advice and input as may be required.

What are the challenges facing the sports sector in recruiting and retaining volunteers?

Safeguarding Children is a key area and there can be no compromise on how it is maintained to the highest standards.  irish sporting history has its own dark days in relation to sport and children and they are repeated in sports and communities around the world.

The present system of Garda clearance provides some measure of vigilance over people getting into positions of trust who should nit be there but the complication of having to get clearance across every area of volunteer activity can be seen as a barrier.

There should be greater use of data to enable authorities deal in an efficient manner with the clearing of adults to work with children.

Can success stories be identified in order to show ways to encourage more people to volunteer in sport or existing volunteers to stay engaged over a longer period?

Stories help to bring the idea of ‘giving back’ to a new audience and a recent insert on RTE’s Late Late Show highlighted the importance but also the rewards of volunteering in coastal safety.

In the main though volunteering is a personal choice, done for no gain in terms of social standing and so largely immune to broad based storytelling.

Communities develop their own local heroes and it is they rather than somebody distant that will inspire others to give a little and then if needed, a little more.

What are the motivation challenges for volunteers in sport?

having to double up in terms of coaching, maintenance, fundraising and more can lead to a tentative hand up leading to an overload with the loss of motivation coming over time.

Feeling that others are not pulling their weight and there being a continuing call on a small circle is a regular issue at clubs across the country but it is only in articulating that to those who could do more that it can be solved, largely at local level.

What changes, if any, are needed to the coaching structures for volunteers in sport?

A proper pyramid where there are few skill barriers to getting involved at an entry level, through a pathway of expanded technical and motivational skills is the optimum way to get a skilled volunteer coach network but for it to always remain open to fresh input.

Is the pool of potential volunteers restricted to people already engaged with a sport or can the net be cast wider in the local community?

Much as in the psychology of business it will always be easier to get a little more from those already involved that in attracting someone for whom a sport has little personal engagement.

The exceptions may be most apparent where a club has already built a strong programme of community engagement, through active retired networks or similar to create a bond that may be wholly unrelated to sport.

Are there ways to link corporate social initiatives to support volunteer engagement in sport?

There are many examples of how corporate programmes of staff engagement can be tied to assisting local community groups to achieve results beyond their own capacity.

The reward for all is well beyond the effort required and the benefit for business in terms of creating a dynamic network beyond the workplace itself is regarded as of real value.

Is there scope for non-formal, community based and/or formal education opportunities for adults that could assist NGBs in supporting volunteers in order to meet the changing requirements of sport administration, coaching etc.?

First aid training, coaching / parenting skills and more can be taught through the medium of a sports club and bring great value to individuals within a community.

Once the structure to expand is in place, through an initial further call on volunteer resource, then the end product can be that broader base of support that is both obvious and right in terms of building better communities.

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