In the past decade, there has been a huge decline in volunteers. I see it in schools where it is almost always the same parents helping at events. I have also seen it at my sons’ activities when, at the beginning of each soccer season, emails were sent to parents, searching for volunteers to step up and coach their child’s team; this also happens in hockey, baseball and other kids’ sports. I regularly see this in the running community when race directors send out requests for volunteers, and usually more than once, so that their races can run smoothly.
Often volunteer work is filled by high school students who need to complete the 40 service hours required for graduation but we all need to do it. I get it: we are all busy and it’s hard to find time for other people when you can barely find time for yourself. But, speaking from my own experience, volunteering is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. You are making a difference. You are helping others. And no matter how much you had to juggle things around to do something that you may not have really wanted to do in the first place, if you are at all like me, you will always finish feeling good. And, if you’re really lucky, it will come back to thank you later.
Years ago, when I registered my youngest (9 at the time) for soccer, I responded to one of the mass emails searching for a coach. I hadn’t planned on coaching but I was going to be at the field anyway, I knew soccer and I knew how to work with kids. Somebody had to coach and it made sense for me to step up. Besides, it gave me a chance to spend time with my son; I knew that, as a 9 year old, his days of wanting to hang out with Mom would soon be coming to an end. But we spent more seasons at soccer together than I expected. What started off as a fall commitment lead to winter, summer and a few more years of soccer coaching until it just wasn’t cool for me to do it anymore.
My soccer coaching is now two years behind me. There are some times when I have been thanked through smiling faces, handshakes and thank you cards, and others when I have been ignored. But that’s okay. For me, coaching was about spending time with my son. And it was about giving back. Only this year, did I realize home important that giving back really is.
Now in Grade 9, my son has been unleashed from the protection of a smaller local elementary school to the openness of the high school years. While I think I raised both of my kids to do the right thing and make good choices, I worry; all parents do. Who will his new friends be? What will he do in his free time? Where will he hang out? There were – and still are – so many unknowns.
Last Friday night, he asked if he could sleep at a friend’s house. Of course, I hesitated. I recognized the last name, but not the first. I asked where the boy lived – just in case – but it was a different area. “He’s a new friend. We hang out together.” This led a drill of questions and answers, resulting in the mutual decision to drop him off and meet the family; if I didn’t feel comfortable, we would go home together.
When the door opened at his new friend’s house, I said, “I know you. I use to coach you soccer.” The teen looked at me and replied, “Oh ya!” We went inside to see his parents and faces lit up. We all recognized each other from our U10/U11 soccer days. The family had moved and the boy had changed his first name to one that reflected his cultural heritage. Suddenly, the stress of my son’s sleeping over was gone. I knew this family. I knew that my youngest would be fine. And, so I returned home relaxed as I could see that my son was hanging out with good kids.
This was the greatest thank you that I have had in all my years of coaching. It made me grateful for the Saturdays and evenings that I spent on the pitch, being a part of my son’s activities and meeting new people. And it reminded me that this is why we, as parents, need to get involved with our kids when they are younger. Dropping them off at a game, practice or activity is not enough. We need to physically be a part of their lives. We need to see who our kids gravitate towards, watch what they do and listen to what they talk about. We need to influence them to do the right thing. Coaching let me do that with my son. I realize now that my work as a volunteer helped influence my son in making the right decision.
So the next time you are asked to help out, think twice before you reply. It’s not whether you have the time; it’s about whether you want to be a part of something that really matters to you. So get involved. It can do you more good than you will ever realize.