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Phillip Gbormittah on the UK Volunteering Landscape #1: The key to increasing active participation in sport

The challenges facing sports today

Sporting federations have never faced a wider variety of challenges to their core currency – participation bases – than they do today. In a time-poor world, sport faces incredible amounts of competition, from rival sporting codes and old and new forms of mass entertainment to attract participants, before even considering the barriers to participation – safety issues, increasing costs, access and many more issues are all on the radar for sporting administrators.

It is little wonder, then, that the main underpinning force that underpins mass participation sport gets little oxygen in a discussion of the major issues facing sporting federations. That underpinning force, of course, is volunteerism. It is volunteers that are the lifeblood of sport, particularly at a grassroots level, and a strong and engaged volunteer community can help to overcome or guard against many of those other challenges facing sports organisers.

But what of the health of volunteering in sport? Some 20.1 million Brits volunteered at least once in 2017-18, a massive number that masks the difficulties in not attracting, and particularly retaining, volunteers.

At its core, the challenges that sporting organisations have in managing volunteers boil down to two things – technology and resources. How do they – or the lack thereof – affect the health of Britain’s volunteering community?

  • Safety and training

The health and safety of sporting participants has been thrown into sharp relief in recent years via a raft of high-profile controversies – an issue further exacerbated at grassroots level because more often than not, the dynamic is of an adult volunteer managing children. Ensuring volunteers are suitably vetted and trained in this environment is a crucial but time-consuming task that requires either external partners or sophisticated technology, complete with training modules.

The lack of a certified database of talented or reliable volunteers feeds again into the limitations of the technology used by many sporting organisations. The need for adequate safeguards for those working with children will only grow more prevalent, as will the need to find volunteers with experience with mental/physical health conditions.

  • Engagement and reducing churn

Again, a lack of technological solution has knock-on effects for volunteer churn. While volunteers give time freely, it is unrealistic to expect them to not want anything in return. Whether it’s access to sporting events, the feeling of community or to gain valuable experience, volunteers need to be engaged in order to be retained. This is best done by comprehensively tracking their tasks, training and goals, something that is almost impossible to do with manual spreadsheets.

Technological solutions can allow sporting bodies to engage their volunteers – and keeping volunteers engaged and happy is the best way to combat churn. The right workforce tech can also double as an efficient way to solve other key problems, such as serving as a platform to conduct volunteer training and induction and serving as a source of information, thereby increasing knowledge of volunteering opportunities amongst volunteer databases.

If you are attending the Why Sports 2019 conference on Wednesday 18th September, feel free to book an appointment with me to discuss how we can help engage volunteers within your sporting federation.