In Praise of Rec Sports Volunteers

An image of curling sheets of ice with players on the ice watching the curling rock. Scoreboards on the back wall.

St Thomas Curling Club bonspiel

I like to express gratitude for things (like scrimmage) when I think more deeply about the positive impact they have had on my health and well being. Today, I want to praise recreation sports volunteers.

Elan with her syrup.

I recently attended my first Sugar Shack curling tournament, called a bonspiel, as a member of the St. Thomas Curling Club. The bonspiel is named after the Eastern Canadian sugar shacks (in French, cabane à sucre) where sap is collected from sugar maple trees and boiled down into delicious maple syrup.

On bonspiel day, I played two games with my team, enjoyed chatting our opponents in the lounge afterwards, was served a delicious chilli lunch, and left with a big ol’ bottle of maple syrup. It was a great way to spend a winter Saturday.

Only after the bonspiel did I reflect on how smoothly the event ran, even with COVID restrictions still in place. Volunteers from the club took entry fee payment, assigned our teams’ sheets and times, and sold 50/50 fundraising tickets. They served food, cleaned up glasses and lunch dishes, and sanitized tables as people moved in and out of the lounge throughout the day. They kept scores, calculated winners, and gave away prizes. This amazing group of volunteers helped to make the event seamless and enjoyable for participants.

When have I noticed volunteers who support rec sports before? I think back to playing Pee-Wee softball as a kid, imagining there must have been many adults putting in time and effort to make our ball games happen each week. Among the volunteers was my mom–wrapped in blankets to brace against the Calgary spring weather–keeping score every game. She and other caregivers used the little free time they had to ensure we kids could run around outside and gain some important team skills.

In fact, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about the sheer number of volunteers that make children and adult rec sports happen worldwide. In villages, towns, and cities everywhere, people are showing up to sit on boards, apply for funding, coach teams, serve as referees or linespeople, organize events, take tickets, run concession, clean up afterwards, do the accounting. Some positions are paid, but I bet in most cases the time and effort outpace the financial compensation.

I could make a wild proposition and suggest that all volunteers should be paid. (For more of my economically unrealistic ideas, see my post on free exercise). But then I wonder whether the spirit of volunteerism–why people serve in the first place–gives people something that money couldn’t quite match. Maybe it’s not about the compensation: folks volunteers to support their family and friends, participate in a social activity, and give back to a sport that they love.

The word “volunteer” is from the Latin voluntariusvoluntary, of one’s free will,” which according to the etymology website was first used in the 14th century to refer to feelings rather than to action. To volunteer is an act the heart; one must have the will to serve others before the work itself gets done. Volunteering for rec sports is a labour of love.

I am so grateful to all those people who have volunteered in rec sports for my benefit (past and present); they laboured so I could have fun. How might I repay them for their efforts? Going forward, I could send notes of thanks, donate money to support volunteer programs, or carve out time to volunteer for rec sports myself.

At next year’s Sugar Shack bonspiel, it might just be sweeter to give out maple syrup than to receive it.

Some curling lounge fun (i.e., more curling) with my team and our opponents between games.

What’s your take on volunteering in rec sports? If you volunteer, why do you do it?

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