In praise of parent volunteers

We know that it’s unfashionable to praise parent volunteers, particularly because they are “only in it for their kids,” as non-volunteers claim.

What follows will seem less like praise and more like defense of those that help on the bench, or behind the scenes. So be it. We feel a personal connection with this subject matter because we have put in our fair share of volunteer hours in the past decade. Even more than our fair share as the spouses of assistant coaches and managers. With each season, the time commitment increased. And then just as suddenly as we were thrown into the world of minor hockey, it seemed, it was all over. The volunteer work, we mean.

Volunteers are efficient, less stressed

In minor hockey, there’s a misconception that parents volunteer because they want payback for their kids in terms of ice time, or a letter, or special favours of one type or another. We haven’t found that to be true. Neither is it true that team parents who volunteer are the ones who have time to do so. They just make time to be involved.

The Huffington Post recently reported the following from an article based on the results of a study published in the journal Psychological Science:

“Researchers from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management found that when a person volunteers his or her time, it makes us feel more efficient, and therefore like we are less stressed and hurried.”

This sounds contradictory, yet it rings true. From our own experience as parent volunteers, we were able to squeeze hockey business into our regular work days. Other times, administrative tasks extended our work days, but we felt a sense of accomplishment. Not only for what we had done, but for helping lighten the load of the team manager, or head coach.

Anyone who has volunteered time to a minor hockey team, would likely agree. They prove the maxim: If you want something done, give the task to a busy person.

Social connection

It’s not just a sense of satisfaction that parents get when they help with their son’s or daughter’s team.

It may also be a reflection of the type of person who volunteers. Like the coaches, managers and those who lead fundraising initiatives do so because the feel connected, and they “experience a sense of belonging—a sense of being part of a relationship with others.”

When hockey parents volunteer, it gives them a personal attachment. The social contact can help us feel connected, of being part of the team. The opposite can be true: those who rarely volunteer feel detached from the team, feel left out, and complain more frequently.

This may be one of the reasons that those who do not volunteer to help feel like outsiders. Based on those feelings, they make assumptions, such as the players of parent coaches/managers get special treatment. Not true. What we have witnessed is that behind-the-scenes volunteers often have A-type personalities and a team mindset. They have an ingrained competitive nature, and are often in careers that require leadership. They can be bossy and annoying at times, but they get the work done.

Same goes for the folks on the bench.

It is common for volunteers on the bench to have been part of a team sport, typically hockey. So, these guys (generally it’s dads on the bench, but yes, increasingly it’s gals, too), fully understand the concept of teamwork, and of sport. They know first-hand what it feels like to be part of a team,  to win together, to lose together, to hang in the dressing room together. To have one another’s back on and off the ice.

As former players, they understand what it means to have a good coach, and volunteers coaches want to make a difference.

Too many non-volunteers fail to appreciate that these folks—head coach, assistant coaches, and trainer—are on the bench for all the players, not just for their own kids. It can be a thankless job, and if coaching staff members are able to turn down the volume of yapping parental noise, they can focus on player development, the positive outcome of any season.

Positive experience means returning volunteers

At National CASA E-Learning for Continuing Education website an article by Rick Lynch, “Volunteer Retention and Feelings of Connection,” points to the positive experience means returning volunteers,

“If the experience is satisfying and rewarding, the volunteers will continue to want to participate.”

This may be the reason we see the same hockey parents volunteering year after year. Why else would they take on that workload?

The coaching staff and manager spend their free time creating game plans, doing paperwork, making telephone calls, sending text messages, exchanging email, researching tournaments, chasing parents for payment. The give up time with their own families to help your kid develop as a hockey player.

Unless you’ve seen it first-hand, you might doubt that the average AAA minor hockey coach dedicate 10–20 hours to team business. It may be one of the leading arguments for paying a non-parent coach.

Lending a hand

On its website, the Ramada B Midget Knights of Grande Prairie minor hockey, stresses the importance of parental involvement and has a code for team parents, including #1 on the list:

“Expect no special rights or privileges because you are a volunteer. However, expect to be appreciated when you do a good job. Be prepared to put in long, hard hours with little or no recognition except the self-satisfaction of knowing you have accepted a challenge many turn away from.”

The association has a mandate that every hockey family contribute throughout the season, but not all teams have that mandate.  Our association did not encourage parent volunteerism across the board; however, Hockey Canada, in its Team Manager’s Manual offers this:

“Most parents will be prepared to volunteer in some capacity; a good rule of thumb is that each family should take on at least one role. Training for some positions may also be required. The Team Manager should set up training sessions at the beginning of the season for the various positions—such as running the clock, or operating the concession at games. The training could take place during a team practice to avoid the need for additional time at the rink.”

With minor hockey passed, there is an empty pocket of time which I normally filled with team tasks, and now I see just how much time we invested in our team over the course of a decade.

These days, we have that elusive free time that reluctant volunteers had while we were putting in time from August through April, season after season. And while we appreciate our freedom, we would not have had it any other way.

 — Editorial Staff
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