As Volunteers Week 2019 draws to a close, Head Coach and Development Coordinator Daniel Pratt has written about his experiences as a volunteer and explains just what keeps him going:
For #VolunteersWeek I thought I’d write about my experience with volunteering over the last couple of decades to give a view of what life can be like as a volunteer, and also in the hope that it will inspire more people to get involved with projects close to them.
My journey as a volunteer started, as many others do, with being asked to help out by one of those smiley, friendly faces that are just impossible to say no to.
Only 15 at the time, I had been playing for Croydon Korfball’s senior teams for a couple of years and it was Anna Jeanes who approached me to ask if I could help coach the junior players at the club. I think we both knew that there was no way I could turn down the request for help and so my lifetime of volunteering began.
Anna was the perfect role-model as a volunteer; she played at the top level of the sport, was helping run the club committee and was overseeing a thriving junior programme which was seeing so many kids getting involved in sport. Visiting schools on a weekly basis, Anna was always doing as much as she could to encourage the next generation to give korfball a go.
I started helping out at junior sessions, following the lead of a head-coach and encouraging the younger players to enjoy the various drills and matches.
Although some people now may struggle to believe it, I was very shy at that age and it was volunteering and the responsibility that came with it that brought out my character. I was in a situation where I needed to be supportive and encouraging for the younger players and I couldn’t do that by sitting quietly in a corner.
It didn’t take long before I was confident enough to be able to coach the players and lead drills myself. The enjoyment you get from seeing others enjoying themselves as a result really can give you such a drive to do more and that was exactly what happened, beginning with helping out on school visits before coaching every week at after school clubs.
Coaching juniors really is rewarding, the fun and enjoyment that children have is infectious and you just can’t help smiling when the noise of clapping and shouting and cheering carries across the school playground.
After a few more years of coaching and helping out with organising the club’s annual tournament, I also joined the club committee. Being able to help influence the decisions the club was making made me feel like a valuable part of something. It was at a time where there were big changes on the horizon, with the clubhouse being purchased to make way for the new tram coming to Croydon, there were decisions to be made as to where the money would be invested in to.
There were meetings with the council, local sports groups, as well as committee meetings to attend and it was the first time I found that being a volunteer might mean giving up a little more of my time than I first expected!
After many years of coaching, I was presented with another opportunity for volunteering and like before, it was pretty difficult to say no. This time it was down at a Scout camp in Chalfont Heights. It wasn’t exactly stressful work, on the odd weekend I would head to the campsite and over the next couple of days I would help kids take part in archery, rock climbing, abseiling, swimming and plenty of other activities. The evenings were easy going, with a few drinks around a campfire and a lodge to catch some rest in. It was here that I found out that volunteering wasn’t just free labour, it could be enjoyable and become a hobby too!
At 24 I moved to The Netherlands and with that, I got the chance to learn another lesson in volunteering. I was asked to help coach my new team’s B1 team (under 16s) but being the typical Brit abroad, my language skills were very limited. I found out pretty quickly that coaching doesn’t always require people to speak the same language and like a younger, better looking Schteve McLaren I was able to take the training sessions and coach on match-days using the very little Dutch I knew (minus the swearing).
It taught me very quickly, that as long as you are passionate about what you do, volunteering can be incredibly rewarding, regardless of the various situations you might find yourself in. I found that success for a volunteer wasn’t just about the end result, but about the small moments on the journey where a player might suddenly start to pick up that technique you’d patiently taught them or bringing together a group of players who stick together as friends long after the season finishes. There are many rewards there for volunteers who can offer some time and it can feel great when that gets repaid with moments like that.
After The Netherlands, I found myself up in Scotland playing korfball in a much smaller pool than I had been used to in England or especially The Netherlands. For context, the club I played for in NL was from a very small village called Leiderdorp and there were three times as many korfballers at the club, than there were in the whole of Scotland. It was clear that I could offer something to Scottish korfball and when the time came, I found myself volunteering again, having put myself forward for the national committee I was quickly in a position where I was in charge of something with a huge potential that wasn’t being realised. Thankfully, with a wealth of volunteering experience and more years in korfball than I cared to mention, I was able to see where the easy fixes were and the longer term battles that would need to be fought.
I was very lucky in my first year as chairperson of Scotland Korfball to have a core of other like-minded volunteers who were happy to give up a considerable amount of time to help change the direction of Scottish korfball. Unfortunately, the big changes that have been put in place will not begin to bear fruit for another few years yet, but I hope that the group will feel the same sense of accomplishment that I feel, knowing that we have helped set the course for korfball to flourish in Scotland.
With volunteering, there can be some very quick rewards, but also some hard work which goes unseen and unpraised. I think this is why it’s so important, when you are volunteering, to pick something you are passionate about and invested in.
When the tough moments come along, you want to have that light to guide you through the darkness because it isn’t always the big smiles and fun you see in the public events. Having come this far, I now look back at the big beaming smile I used to get from Anna as a young adult and I know that there must have been countless evenings where, in private, that smile was gone and a feeling of exhaustion replaced it.
I have had many moments over the last few years where it all felt like it could be too much, but the passion and drive have kept me going. I’m very grateful to be in a position at the moment at my current club, Edinburgh City, where I am surrounded with other volunteers full of passion and energy. It is also a moment in the club’s history where we are breaking records almost weekly, with membership up to its highest number we have entered a third team into the league for the very first time and have had so many new players trying out the sport.
It’s these moments, as a volunteer, that I would recommend to cherish the most. Whilst they are happening, don’t overlook them and enjoy them as much as possible. When the dark times come and it all feels like an uphill struggle, remember these moments and recognise that they will come back!
Volunteering isn’t always easy, but it can be the most rewarding thing you can do in life. I really hope that from those who read this, there is one who might decide today is the day they get out and volunteer. Whether it’s for a hobby they already enjoy, or for a local community group or whether it’s as simple as picking up litter once a week. There are so many great ways you can help the world be a better place and if you’re stuck for inspiration, I’d recommend heading to https://volunteeringmatters.org.uk/ for some great ideas of opportunities near you!