Valuing Volunteers

With the exception of 2020, which wiped out youth sports, one of my favorite moments each year is reviewing the final applications from the NAYS volunteer coach- and parent-of-the-year nominations. Applications come in from around the world from member organizations on almost every U.S. military installation that organizes youth sports.

Recognizing volunteers has always been one of the top priorities of youth-sports administrators. It is always on top of the list when we survey members about the best ways to attract more volunteers to programs. I don’t know of a better way to recognize volunteers than with awards that shine a spotlight on all the hard work and effort they put into programs in their communities.

Reading about the moms and dads who spend hours before, during, and even after a season concludes is truly inspiring. I think about the military mom who won the Parent of the Year award a couple years back. A number of her children were enrolled in sports, and she took on the responsibility of coaching because many of the other parents were active duty and could not dedicate the time. The fact that she not only coached her own team of 7- and 8- year-olds, but also acted as a team mom for another team because of a lack of parents available, made her an easy selection. I think of a Coach of the Year recipient from a number of years ago who had contracted a flesh-eating virus, lost both of his hands and legs, and still returned to coach kids in a basketball league. And he’s still coaching today.

I also think of my own coaches and team moms from many years ago. Instead of going home from work, these hard-working men and women volunteered their time to work on drills with me and my teammates, and then would sit in the parking lot until dark discussing game strategy and line-ups. I didn’t appreciate it back then, but I sure do now.

These are the people who truly make youth sports operate. Just think about that for a second. If we had to pay these individuals for their true value, consider how much youth-sports participation would cost in this country. You really don’t have to wonder; just look to the school system and see what it costs to have qualified, caring individuals in charge of our children’s education. It truly is astounding when you think about it.

What’s even more astounding is not every organization we work with actually takes the time to participate in the award program. Of course, there is only one winner for each category nationally, but that doesn’t limit the impact that can be made locally. One doesn’t need a national award to make an impact. We encourage all organizations to give multiple awards during the season. A weekly or even a mid-season event, where volunteers can be nominated and recognized, can have a tremendous impact on a program and show volunteers they are valued and appreciated for their efforts. Plus, if recreation leaders are going to submit a nomination for an annual award or a national award, they have already done all the work.

We have always stressed to administrators that volunteers should be regarded as employees. Part of that process is screening to ensure you have only the best people with the best intentions; monitoring and recognizing those individuals is the best way to ensure volunteers will be willing to show up when the next season rolls around. Plus, what better way is there to inspire the next wave of parents who will be joining the program?

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