Time for a Sports Volunteer Corps in SVG

536783023The St Vincent and the Grenadines Swimming Federation held its annual SAC Invitational competition over the weekend at its facility at Shrewsbury House, Ratho Mill.
Before commenting on the performances it is necessary to compliment the Federation once more for the excellent transformation of the facility. Indeed one can easily now claim that the facility is fast approaching international standards and it would not be long before it is so designated by the regional and international swimming bodies.
The facility is now properly enclosed and boasts a six-lane swimming pool, state of the art timing system, meet manager, expansive change rooms, covered and uncovered stands and an office.
Time has been taken to preserve the environment with palms and other plants placed at the back of the covered stands.
The competition was great given that this country has only recently reorganised the sport and its governing body. Commendations are in order for the tremendous progress made in the relatively short time.
There are now two swim clubs in the country – Black Sands and Blue Marlins and the coaches are split between them.
The Federation has been aggressive in pursuit of growth, development and excellence.
The manager of Scotiabank was on hand on the days of competition and was extremely pleased with what his organisation’s sponsorship has meant for the development of a sport that should witness increasing numbers over time.
Whereas at this time of the year in 2015 only three athletes had made the Carifta standards established by the Federation, this year six athletes have already achieved the appropriate marks, testimony to the work being undertaken by all involved.
Parents remain fully supportive of their children in the sport.
The Swimming Federation has however found itself in the same predicament as all of the sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines – a crying need for volunteers.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines there is no culture of volunteering. In this regard sport is not by any means alone. It is a national problem and predicament. This is most interesting because we often hear individuals boasting that we are a developing nation and that the time has come to consider, ‘numero uno’. That means focusing on one’s self.
For some strange reason we fail to realise that what we are doing is making selfishness something of a passion. We are no longer interested in being our ‘brother’s keeper’. This is interesting since it contradicts the nation’s insistence that we are a Christian community, a phenomenon that promotes unity, sharing and service out of a profound love for each other that does not degenerate into eroticism.
There are some countries in this world that have become particularly adept at establishing and retaining a very strong cadre of volunteers that service sport. Canada, Australia and the UK are perhaps among the very best in terms of their volunteer programmes.
What is volunteering?
According to Volunteering Australia, voluntarism is an activity which takes place through not for profit organisations or projects and is undertaken: to be of benefit to the community and the volunteer; of the volunteer’s own free will and without coercion; for no financial payment; and in designated volunteer positions only.
Volunteering England, on the other hand defines voluntarism as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives.
One of the major challenges in St Vincent and the Grenadines in these challenging economic time sis that a significant number of persons wish to be paid for their services. Indeed there are many who suggest quite openly that volunteering is at an end. This is borne out in the declining numbers joining service organisations that have for several decades been operating in this country.
The culture of the society appears not to have ever been particularly strong on volunteering.
If in politics the existing parties find that increasingly the ‘volunteers’ insist on being paid then on can understand the predicament.
Who is a volunteer?
Susan J Ellis defines a volunteer from two vantage points. From the perspective of the doer: someone who gives time, effort and talent to a need or cause without profiting monetarily.
From the perspective of the recipient of service: someone who contributes time, effort and talent to meet a need or further a mission, without going on the payroll.
Smith (Smith, D. H. (1981), defines a volunteer as … an individual engaging in behaviour that is not bio-socially determined ….nor economically necessitated ….nor socio-politically compelled. …but rather that is essentially (primarily) motivated by the expectation of psychic benefits of some kind
The idea then is that a volunteer operates at the level of altruism. He/she espouses the good cause such that he/she is willing to devote time and energy to facilitate the activity or organisation of choice.
Many Vincentians recount the days when sporting activities in New Montrose on Sundays witnessed the parents coming out having baked cakes and other goodies to support the young people as the went after showing off their athletic talent and earn bragging rights. They were not engaging themselves in the activities for any reason other than they were part of the community and wanted to enter into its growth and development in a manner that engendered unity amongst the populace.
Unfortunately today there is little interest in giving of one’s time. Suddenly we are a society where self-interest takes precedence.
The individual who opts to volunteer in Vincentian society is often thought strange given that this action appears to be going against the popular trend.
Volunteers are usually caring people. They have to take the time to be proficient at their assignments. They are expected to give devoted service at all times.
The volunteer is conscious that his/her assignment is as important as those of the other volunteers regardless of where he/she is stationed. There is an understanding of the whole operation and that each part is significant.
Benefits of volunteering
Perhaps the problem is that we may not have taken the time to emphasise the immense benefits to be derived from volunteering.
Volunteering allows the individual to get involved in an activity or organisation that gives them a sense of giving something back to the nation. There is some satisfaction and meaning to one’s life for having given service in some way and volunteering facilitates that.
Volunteering also offers an opportunity to develop one’s personality. The matter of personal discipline, commitment to a particular task that forms part of a larger undertaking, lead to maturity of the individuals involved. There is a sense of wellbeing that emerges from giving of oneself in the service of others. This often translates into peace of mind and a less stressful life in the face of all the adversity that abounds in contemporary society.
Volunteering also affords individuals to share themselves and their experiences with others from different social, racial, ethnic, economic, geographical and educational backgrounds. It is a sort of social leveller that benefits the entire volunteer corps while significantly enhancing the organisation and its activities.
The social interaction between volunteers adds value to the entire volunteering experience and often leads the volunteers to commit to doing more to enrich at once the activities and the organisation to which they are assigned as well as their volunteering experience more generally.
Communities and societies emerge as stronger, more united institutions as a result of strong volunteering. In this sense volunteering aids in the community development process even though this is not always acknowledged at the local level in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is an immense learning process at work in volunteering. Skill competencies are everywhere available for the learning. Individual volunteers learn to do the most menial of tasks through to the most important and high status activities. In many respects those who know teach others while those who are lacking in knowledge learn from others.
Many individuals who are today in important sport positions began their sport careers as volunteers. Some began volunteering in school others in church and yet others with small clubs. Today some of them are leading regional, continental and international sports organisations.
Some volunteers from the Caribbean have been invited to serve in a similar capacity at regional and international competitions.
Recruitment and Training
Organisations need volunteers. They must therefore develop appropriate strategies to recruit volunteers. Sporting organisations usually seek out the parents of the children who practice their sport. Because the often interact with the parents sport leaders seize the opportunity to engender their interest in becoming a volunteer. Teachers and community leaders are also prime targets of sports organisations as also are former athletes and coaches.
Some organisations seek to establish relations with schools to have sessions focused on volunteering in the hope that some may become interested and engage themselves sin the experience.
Recruitment is however only part of the process. Once recruited the volunteers must be trained. They must be trained in all aspects of volunteering. Following this they are then given the option of choosing their preferred areas of work. However, because it is important that everyone functions efficiently in the assigned areas it is necessary to ensure that there is a good fit between the volunteer and the assigned area of work. In other words, every effort must be made to ensure horses for courses. Failure to ensure adequate fit the entire undertaken is doomed to failure. It is not just about where the individual wants to work but rather ensuring that all individuals are assigned to the areas where they are best suited.
St Vincent and the Grenadines claims to be a sport loving country. This may not necessarily be the case. We practice sport but the matter of genuine sport development is another matter and not always taken seriously.
There is a crying need for volunteers in sport as evidenced by the activities of the different sporting bodies that seem to rely on the same people over the years. There are too few labourers in the fields.
The time may well have come for the national sports associations to come together to establish a national sports volunteer corps. Such an institution could engage in appropriate research into the state of volunteering in the country and devise appropriate sustainable strategies to recruit and retain volunteers.
Let’s see if there will be any eager takers in this regard