curling · team sports

In Praise of Rec Sports Volunteers

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 smiles holding up a bottle of syrup, with the curling sheets behind her
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.

a hand hovers over a plastic tabletop curling sheet
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?

fitness

Is there a relationship between gratitude and health?

I’m not sure how November became “gratitude month,” but I’m kind of grateful for whatever meme-maker started it. Sam is too. At first, it seemed like the provenance of bullet journal-makers and the people who teach mindfulness in the workplace, but I have realized through my coaching practice that focusing on gratitude can actually be a meaningful intervention to shifting our ability to cope in complicated or difficult times. There is, it turns out, even literature to support this.

It’s been known for a while that interventions like gratitude journaling can have a positive impact on stress and a sense of wellbeing in many contexts, including parenting, school and work — and there are hints that “gratitude interventions” can have a positive impact on physical health, including improving management of asthma, cardiovascular health, and other forms of chronic illness. This is especially so when gratitude is part of a social relationship — i.e., expressed to or by someone else.

So — why is this, exactly? There are a ton of researchers looking at this from a lot of different angles, including measuring brain activity in relation to various gratitude experiences. There is some suggestion that experiencing gratitude may lower your heart rate (certainly in comparison to experiencing resentment or a threat), and that gratitude ignites neural pathways that are related to (my words here, not theirs) the same parts of our brains ignited by belonging or caring for other people.

What is the relationship between focusing on the things you appreciate in your life and better managing your diabetes? There are two different types of processes involved.

The first is your own individual motivation. One group of researchers suggests it goes something like this: if you develop positive affect (i.e., a sense of appreciation or happiness) about your life in general, we feel less stress and have more energy to do the things that make us healthier (like exercising, not smoking, not drinking excessively, sleeping well), which helps reinforce unconscious motives for healthy behaviours, which leads to further engagement in healthy behaviours. It’s not as simple as individual choice and free will, of course — you need a social context and environment where healthy behaviours are possible. But there definitely does seem to be a relation between stress and misery and the deterioration of emotional and physical wellbeing.

The other set of factors is “prosocial” — i.e, related to how we experience ourselves in communites and relationships. Amplifying our sense of gratitude leads us to appreciate the people around us more, and to participate more fully in our communities. And “prosocial behaviour” — ie.., feeling like we belong to a community — has a well documented positive impact on our health.

So all those memes? They actually mean something. Cultivating a practice of quiet gratitude on its own supports our own emotional and physical wellbeing; telling someone else you are grateful for them amplifies it.

I’m going off now to send some texts full of gratitude. And I’ll leave you with a yoga I was grateful for yesterday, when I made the time to comfort and nourish myself.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is particularly grateful in this moment for her cats, her functioning body, her home and all the people she loves.

fitness

A few of my favourite things: Friends, family, mountains, dogs, hikes, playgrounds, beaches, and card games

It’s a rough time in the world. For those of us for whom this is new, this recent rough time, we also get to realize what an incredible position of privilege we occupy given that it’s only now that we’re worried. In other countries, in other places around the world people worry all the time about what their governments will do.

But privilege or not, I’m not sleeping and having to work on my breathing. Sometimes I joke and say I am holding my breath until the real grown ups wake up and fix everything. (What everything? The climate, the future of human life on the planet, nuclear war, restrictions of rights and liberties, raising tides of racism and Islamophobia. You know.) And yes, I know. There are no real grown ups in charge. That’s terrifying. Deep breaths. I’m not sure I’m joking.

We are all here on the blog struggling to maintain calm and to find things that help us move forward. Susan wrote about running away from her despair. I asked whether protest marching counts as a fitness activity. Cate wrote about 8 ways to find balance in these awful times.

I’m not normally the kind of person to make statuses with the hashtag “blessed” and the idea of a gratitude journal has sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. But maybe these days lists of things that bring us joy are sometimes needed.

This week I’m on holiday with my daughter. I’m taking a break from work and we’re visiting with a friend in Victoria. I’m making more effort than usual to make sure I get to do some of my favourite things. Here’s some things that made me smile this week and for which I’m grateful.

  1. Hiking with dogs and friends: That’s Audrey, friend and an occasional guest on the blog, her dogs (good and bad), me, and my daughter Mallory at Thetis Lake.

Image description:  There are three women on beach, facing the camera, dressed for col weather hiking.  One of them is holding a dog at waist height. There is a lake and trees in the background.
Image description: There are three women on beach, facing the camera, dressed for col weather hiking. One of them is holding a dog at waist height. There is a lake and trees in the background.

2.  Visiting the tops of mountains

Sam at the Mount Douglas lookout, facing camera, wearing a rain coat, with messy hair from the hike up the hill.
Image description: Sam at the Mount Douglas lookout, facing camera, wearing a rain coat, with messy hair from the hike up the hill.

 

3. Dipping my toes in the ocean

Image description: Sam in her red raincoat enjoying a grey day at Cadbo Beach, surrounded by driftwood.
Image description: Sam in her red raincoat enjoying a grey day at Cadbo Beach, surrounded by driftwood.

4. Playing in playgrounds

Image description: Sam sitting atop a giant red octopus in a children's playground.
Image description: Sam sitting atop a giant red octopus in a children’s playground.

5. Playing games–cards of many different kinds, Balderdash, Scrabble!

Image description: A young woman in her twenties, with shoulder length brown hair. wearing a red shirt and black jumper smiles at the camera while playing cribbage.
Image description: A young woman in her twenties, with shoulder length brown hair. wearing a red shirt and black jumper smiles at the camera while playing cribbage.

Image description: A scrabble board near the end of the game. Someone (me!) played "Linchpin" over both triple words.
Image description: A scrabble board near the end of the game. Someone (me!) played “Linchpin” over both triple words.

 

6. Spending time in the woods, in particular, this time, in Goldstream Park

Image description:  A selfie featuring a mother being hugged from behind by her tall daughter in a leafy, mossy, green forest.
Image description: A selfie featuring a mother being hugged from behind by her tall daughter in a leafy, mossy, green forest.

Image description: Steps up into mossy forest.
Image description: Steps up into mossy forest.

How about you? What’s making you smile and keeping you going in hard times?