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«The Children’s Sport Participation REPORT 2 and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA Study) Volunteer Study ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Research Team would like ...»

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The profile of the Irish volunteer is shaped by educational attainment, economic circumstances, life phase, and prior participation in physical activity (Lunn, Layte, & Watson, 2007). The typical volunteer has third level education, is aged between 40-49 years, has children participating in sport, and participated themselves in physical activity. Many of these volunteers commenced coaching a decade earlier (Delaney & Fahey, 2005).These demographics highlight the under representation of young people and people over the age of 60 years (GHK, 2010). The 2006 Census of Population identified males (69%) as the dominant gender in the sport volunteer workforce (GHK, 2010). This profile accentuates the narrow band of people who are attracted to volunteering, and the need to look at strategies that promote volunteering as a positive community practice that all community members can contribute to when provided with adequate training and support. To do this requires a further investment in understanding why people volunteer for youth sport and physical activity programmes, and what makes the experience a positive and worthwhile investment of their time. There are outcomes for the volunteer and the participant and both must be considered when designing policy at the local and national level.

The economic value of volunteering

Volunteers make a substantial contribution to the economy. The proportion of people volunteering in sport in Ireland is approximately 14.4% of the adult population (Delaney & Fahey, 2005). Based on the minimum wage, a one-hour commitment per week and a conservative assumption that people volunteer 40 weeks per year (Delaney et al., 2005) estimated that the total annual value of volunteering in Ireland is €267 million while a more recent study by Indecon International Economic Consultants estimated the value of volunteering at between €321 million and €582 million per annum (Indecon, 2010).

Understanding volunteer motivations, barriers and needs is at the heart of junior sport and physical activity programmes, as without volunteers there are no programmes.

Volunteer motivations

There are multiple reasons why people choose to volunteer (Taylor et al., 2003). Research from Ireland and countries that have a strong volunteer culture (i.e., UK, Australia, New Zealand) suggest that motivations for participation are altruistic and social (Delaney & Fahey, 2005; Nichols & Shepherd, 2006). They include general interest in the sport, a desire to give something back to the club or sport, family engagement and connection, personal benefits, to do something good, and social networking (Chelladurai, 1999; et al., 1998).

In Ireland, the main motivation for male sport volunteers is a desire to give something back to the sport, and for females, it is related to their children’s involvement in sport and physical activity programmes (Delaney & Fahey, 2005). What makes volunteering an attractive proposition in an Irish context is seeing participants improve and learn and this reflects international research that reiterates values (altruism) as a major functional motive for volunteering (Busser & Carruthers, 2010) as well as the personal gains of fun, and enjoyment through networking and interaction with other people (Busser & Carruthers, 2010; Maleney, 2007).

Previous engagement in sport influences a person’s decision to volunteer (Delaney & Fahey, 2005). This in itself has implications for how sports clubs view their young participants.

If they are seen as future volunteers there is opportunity to nurture them and develop a broader skill set (coaching, administration) as part of their sport, or physical activity experience. Understanding why people do not volunteer is as important as understanding why they do. Is their decision to abstain from volunteering an informed decision or is it based on assumptions about a required skill set and experience? Is it due to limited pathways that one can only access and navigate if immersed in sport or connected to a relevant social, family, and community network?

The most common pathway into volunteering in Ireland is through word of mouth and being asked to help (Volunteer Development Agency, 2001). Maleney in his study of Irish volunteers found that three quarters of club level volunteers committed time to volunteering as a result of external influence (being asked to help) or persuasion (nominated for a position) (Maleney, 2007). Considering volunteers are also motivated by social, family and community connections it would make sense that these networks are a fertile recruitment ground. It does highlight that volunteer pathways are restricted and provide limited access to people outside the network. In other EU countries (i.e., Denmark, France) volunteer organisations have national volunteer centres that provide a central hub for volunteer policy, information, education, and volunteer databases (GHK, 2010). In Ireland volunteer organisations are devolved according to sectors. For example, in the sport sector LSPs are responsible for volunteer databases at the local level, and for the organisation of coach and sport education programmes (Fitzpatrick Associates, 2005) Some people commit to a volunteer role because they perceive that there is no alternative and they fear the club will close because there is no one else to take on the role (Sports England, 2003). Working with children and youth has its own set of unique challenges and responsibilities that can deter volunteers. For example, some of these challenges are the responsibility for “duty of care” associated with working with parents, child protection, transport and management issues, health and safety, and an agreed understanding of the outcomes of children’s and youth sport. These challenges, in some cases perceived barriers, have the potential to reduce the volunteer workforce and the related opportunities for children and youth to participate in sport and physical activity.

Some sports in Ireland are culturally and ideologically bound and this influences volunteer motives for engagement. This can work both for and against the organisation as a recruitment strategy (Maleney, 2007; National Committee on Volunteering, 2002; Sports England, 2003).

Challenges and barriers to volunteering

Time is the most common descriptor people use when describing availability and contribution to community sport and physical activity programmes. Available ‘time’ is the greatest barrier to volunteer participation, followed by ‘never having thought about it’ and ‘never been asked’ (Delaney & Fahey, 2005; Maleney, 2007; National Committee on Volunteering, 2002). Time is used as a measurement but also as a value-laden concept.

Lack of time was related to available clock time and influenced by lifestyle, family and work commitments. Some people felt that they had already given enough and it was now time for other people to volunteer. In this sense, volunteering is about giving time and about that time being valued. Gaskin (Gaskin, 2008) puts forward that a changing culture of consumerism and the economic climate creates added barriers to volunteering.

There is debate over whether the current economic climate has increased or decreased volunteer numbers. In an international report on volunteering in the European Union it was suggested that in Ireland volunteer numbers had risen in the sport sector in response to the current economic climate (GHK, 2010). In contrast the Irish Sports Monitor report (Lunn & Layte, 2008) found no evidence to suggest an increase in volunteer participation.

It is important to note that unless studies used to compare volunteer numbers use the same context, methodology and definitions it is impossible to claim accurate results.

Research investigating volunteers in the United Kingdom found that the volunteer workforce often performs several roles, they are overworked and there is rarely a succession plan (Gaskin, 2008). In Ireland volunteers have also expressed that there is too much expected of them, there are insufficient numbers of volunteers, and they were taken for granted (Maleney, 2007; National Committee on Volunteering, 2002). Volunteers are responsible for the management, operation, and coaching in the majority of sports clubs yet they have limited exposure to education and training in these roles. Professionalisation of sport and the ability of volunteers to meet the job demands through extra training and education as unpaid staff, challenges the goodwill of the volunteer. This places increased tension on organisations trying to make volunteering an attractive option (GHK, 2010).

The outlook of the organisation and poor management and structure lead to dissatisfaction, and many organisations are reluctant to instigate change even though they have access to more professional processes (Maleney, 2007).

Recruitment and retention of volunteers is problematic. This is a workforce predominantly measured on its outputs but, which also requires input (National Committee on Volunteering, 2002). Lack of recognition for educational attainment through informal 1 and non-formal 2 learning provides little incentive for volunteers. The European report on volunteering (GHK, 2010) recommends that volunteering needs to be actively recognised and supported within lifelong learning strategies and systems developed which officially recognise informal and non-formal learning. To understand the process and issues of volunteer recruitment, retention, motivation and education requires listening to the multiple voices of volunteers, those working at the coal face as well as club administrators with responsibility for the management of clubs and volunteers.


Previous international and national research investigating volunteers has highlighted the need to invest in the development of the volunteer workforce. Building on this body of knowledge this study investigates the motivations, needs and capacities of volunteers working with children and youth participants in an Irish context. The voices of volunteers and administrators are considered when examining this complex and dynamic youth sport and physical activity environment. Their contribution and engagement in junior sport lays the foundation for lifelong and life broad participation in sport, and the health of a nation.

Purpose of the study

The overall objectives of the volunteer study were to:

1. Explore pathways into volunteering in a children’s and youth sport context.

2. Investigate motivations and barriers to volunteer participation in a children’s and youth sport context.

3. Examine volunteers’ perceptions of good practice in programme design.

Learning that takes place in everyday life Learning that takes place alongside the mainstream education systems but does not lead to the award of a certificate

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This study was conducted to investigate the motivations, needs, and capacities, of volunteers working with children and youth in an Irish sport context. Two online questionnaires were administered, one targeting volunteers and the second targeting volunteer sport administrators. The online questionnaires were designed for the Irish sport context. The Institute for Volunteering Research’s Volunteering Impact Assessment Toolkit was used to assist in question design (Table.1). Survey monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com/) was the delivery platform for the online surveys.

Table 1. Questionnaire Themes:

The volunteer questionnaire The administrator questionnaire

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Six focus group interviews targeting the volunteers explored issues arising from the questionnaire and further examined programme design in children’s and youth sport activities. Three urban (Cork, Dublin, Limerick) and three rural (West Cork, Louth, Clare) regions were selected for conducting focus group interviews.


The Research Ethics Committee at Dublin City University, University of Limerick and University College Cork approved the study protocol. Participants, by submitting the questionnaire, agreed to participate in the study. People interested in participating in the focus groups were asked to provide contact details on the questionnaire.

Study delivery Study protocols were piloted and refined. The pilot study used a pool of 110 participants who tested the questionnaire link and timing, and provided feedback on questions and the questionnaire structure.

Sample and response rate The number of people responding to the volunteer online survey was 1186, and 210 people responded to the administrator questionnaire. The volunteer sample represents 31 sports from 31 Local Sport Partnership regions. The administrator sample represents 27 sports from 31 Local Sport Partnership regions. Some caution is noted in generalising the findings of this study to all volunteers in Ireland as a convenience sample was used.

Data analysis

Quantitative data analysis Quantitative data analysis was carried out using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS 15.0). Descriptive statistics were calculated via means, standard deviations, minimums, maximums and percentages where appropriate.

Qualitative data analysis Focus-group data was recorded on pre-labelled tapes that were then transcribed manually. The constant comparative method was then used to analyse the data. For theme identification, the researcher looked for patterns, themes, concerns or responses that were posed repeatedly by the focus-group participants. Before the analysis was complete, the entire text was re-read for additional clues to assist in the most complete and detailed interpretation of the data.

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The respondents The respondents were a convenience sample and do not necessarily represent the national situations in terms of sport distribution, county representation, or club size.

Volunteer administrator profile • Two hundred and ten administrators representing 27 sports from 31 LSP areas completed the questionnaire.

• The majority of these clubs and organisations had between 1-50 children and/or 1-50 youth participating in their programmes.

• Volunteers represented 97% of the workforce in children’s and youth sport and physical activity.

• Team sports attracted a higher percentage of volunteers (63%) as compared to individual sports (37%).

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