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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 teenagers are more challenging. I think at this stage they are past the stage where their parents bring them. They are entering secondary school, they have their own opinions and they are definitely not afraid to express them and I think because they choose to be there you get a different attitude. You get a lot of attitude. [Volunteer] Current research literature advocates for a child and not an athlete centred approach when providing children and youth with sport and physical activity opportunities. This approach focuses on participation rather than performance and has been shown to foster enjoyment, skill development and life-long participation in sport and physical activity. Evidence of child centred approaches being used in clubs were found in the focus group discussions, however the questionnaire data showed more complex methods of coaching and less evidence of a ‘child centred’ approach. A recommendation from this research is that sports policy clearly explains what is involved in a ‘child centred’ approaches to sport and physical activity, and clearly communicates the benefits of this type of approach. Volunteers were aware that sport and physical activity programmes that focus strictly on competition only service a minority of participants, and it is time to look at cultural and structural changes designed to meet the needs of a wider spectrum of young people. There are limited guidelines that explain and promote these strategies. The promotion and professional development required to enact a child-centred, or child first, sport second approach needs further commitment at a national level.


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1. Club administration

2. Recruitment and retention of volunteers

3. Volunteer education

4. Programme design Club administration Many of the barriers noted by volunteers are anchored in their perception of poor administration, personnel management, and communication. These results reflect Maleney’s findings that poor administration and management practice at the local club level have a negative impact on volunteers (Maleney, 2007). Volunteers are often placed in positions without experience or the appropriate skill set because no one else takes responsibility for the role, and because there has been no succession planning. There are limited resources available on club administration and only a small minority of NGBs are developing these resources. Swim Ireland as part of their education package has a Team Manager Development Programme available to members (Swim Ireland), The Gaelic Athletic Association is creating a club manual and online resources designed to assist with club administration and club activity (GAA).

Sports administrators require support through education programmes and resources.

There is evidence that in some pockets Local Sport Partnerships are investing in club development (Irish Sports Council, 2009); however, in most cases there has been minimal investment in the management, organisation and strategic development of local sport organisations. Education services could be developed and delivered through one channel or multiple channels. The Clubmark programme in the United Kingdom provides accreditation for clubs that meet a set of consistent and accepted operating standards. Club mark accreditation is administered either by the NGB or the County Sports Partnership (Clubmark, n.d.). In Australia, sports administration programmes are available and designed to enhance the administrative and management skills of people in these roles.

The delivery platform is online to maximize access and these programmes are nationally accredited and independent of NGBs (http://www.assasa.asn.au/course.php).

The Local Sport Partnership programme (Fitzpatrick Associates, 2005; Irish Sports Council, 2009) is positioned to co-ordinate, promote, enhance and deliver components of sports administration programmes. However, the size of the LSP programme makes it difficult to have the extended reach required to service all clubs and volunteers.

Coaching Ireland (Coaching Ireland, 2008) with its focus on training and education is well positioned to expand its current profile and remit to include sports administration accreditation. Although CI’s strategy is coaching focused, professionally administered clubs positively shape the sporting experience for all involved, and education in this area dovetails into coaching strategy outcomes. The NGBs have the potential to develop sports specific information to support clubs in developing their administration and managerial skills. Swim Ireland and the Gaelic Athletics Association have both invested and provided resources to support sports administrators. Regardless of who takes responsibility for designing and delivering these programmes, a focus on club development is pivotal for ensuring club sport is sustainable in the Irish sport context.

Recruitment and retention of volunteers

Volunteers are the workforce in children’s and youth sport. These people are active participants in the sport process just like the children and youth they work with. They want to display competence and confidence and this requires investment in volunteer recruitment and learning.

There are no formal pathways into volunteering and the most common form of recruitment is word-of-mouth. Pathways into volunteering are limited to those people with either a connection to the participant, the sport, the club, previous volunteering experience, or combination of the above. In contrast, Germany provides an example of how a formalized infrastructure can enhance the volunteer experience by providing information, training, coordination services, and a formal pathway between volunteers and organisations (GHK, 2010). The LSP programme was designed to provide a national structure to co-ordinate and promote the development of sport at local level (Fitzpatrick Associates, 2005). There is evidence to suggest that LSPs are engaging in the delivery and organisation of volunteer education and assisting clubs and groups to develop autonomous structures and codes of practice but to date they appear to have made little impact as a broker between volunteers and organisations (Fitzpatrick Associates, 2005; Irish Sports Council, 2009).

Volunteer pathways targeting youth involvement are conceptually a good idea, but there is no formal structure to help clubs develop, mentor and protect youth in these roles. There is international interest in developing youth volunteer programmes and pathways in all volunteer sectors (GHK, 2010; The Scottish Executive, 2004). The sport context provides a natural segue from athlete to volunteer or a parallel pathway where active participants can also work as volunteers in a club or organisation. To be empowered, these young people must depend on support from their club and parents. They need to be valued as members of the club and given opportunities to express their opinions and help make decisions on issues that affect them. Recognition for knowledge gained from the experience and/or an award system (for example, The President’s Award - Gaisce) could provide added incentive for engagement in volunteering. To engage youth the first task is to change the image of volunteering and make it attractive and relevant to their context. Youth are interested in experiences that provide opportunity for them to be proactive and empowered.

The term volunteering no longer describes the role performed by the unpaid workforce in junior sport. The term is in need of rejuvenation and must reflect the skills, knowledge and value of the role if it is to attract and retain people in junior sport. For example, the term sport leader may more adequately capture the essence of the role.

People want more from the experience than personal satisfaction from contributing to the sport club. There is a general consensus that they perform a skilled role and training is required. They are prepared to deliver output but they also want and need input, this is the currency exchange. Time is an important commodity, it is a limited resource, it is a value laden concept, it must be respected, rewarded, and invested in so that people can develop skills, and perform effectively in their context.

The benefits of volunteering are recognised in the literature (Delaney & Fahey, 2005;

Nichols & Shepherd, 2006) and supported by this research. The main benefits are personal development, health benefits, social engagement and networking, and opportunity to contribute to the community and play a role in the development of young people (Irish Sports Council, 2008). At the national level the ISC has been given the mandate to plan, lead and coordinate the sustainable development of competitive and recreational sport in Ireland. In the ISC vision statement the opening point is that everyone is encouraged and valued in sport (Irish Sports Council, 2008). It is time to make explicit what “everyone” represents, as all members of sports clubs and organisations expect an investment in their development. The continual reaffirming from evidence based research that volunteering confers benefits for both parties (the volunteer and the recipient of the volunteering) creates opportunities for LSPs and local sport organisations to promote volunteering, while also reinforcing the need for local level organisations to invest in the retention of volunteers.

The results also confirm previous research that highlights the influence of participation in sport on future volunteering (Maleney, 2007). Clubs would be wise to remind those working with children and youth that they are not only preparing sport participants, they are also nurturing the next generation of volunteers and administrators. Where there is opportunity to involve participants in these roles it should be encouraged, and where possible, these roles should be created to provide these experiences.

Volunteer education

In this research over 80% of volunteers performed a coaching role. Formal coach education programmes have been a rich site for instigating cultural and educational change in sport.

According to volunteers and administrators, access to coach education was problematic.

Opportunity to attend coaching courses is dictated to by numbers enrolling in the programme. This limits access, particularly in rural areas where there can be delays of up to 18 months, or in sports that are in the early stages of evolution and lack infrastructure and human resources for conducting courses across the country. There is a need and opportunity to investigate i) the criteria for conducting a course, and ii) alternative delivery platforms that can reach a wider audience. Recognition that volunteering requires specialist skills places responsibility on people to invest in continuous professional development.

This can only be achieved through access to educational opportunity. It was also noted that volunteer commitment is greatly enhanced when courses take place on site, and time commitment is reduced.

The learning package preferred by volunteers is a combination of formal and informal education, and non-formal learning. Traditionally informal education has been highly valued by the volunteer but given minimal credit by those responsible for formal delivery of volunteer education (Walsh, 2004). The study on volunteering in the European Union (GHK 2010) highlights the lack of national systems for promoting recognition of coaching and the need to recognise skills and competencies for non-formal and informal learning.

Volunteer coaches have specifically asked for access to coaching courses, opportunities to network and share practice, and formal mentoring. Coaches working with children and youth also asked for professional development to help them engage with these groups, in particular communication and management. They want to know how to coach not just what to coach. These generic pedagogical skills could be delivered through a central portal, as these skills are not sport specific. In Australia novice coaches can get access to introductory level material on coaching and officiating, it is delivered online on the Australian Sports Commission website and there is no cost to participants who receive a certificate on completion http://www.ausport.gov.au/participating/coaches/education/ onlinecoach).

Validation of non-formal and informal learning has the potential to work as an incentive and reward for participation in voluntary activities, and as a recruitment strategy. It is imperative that NGBs and CI consider alternative platforms for the delivery of course material. Restricted access to course material and tutors has had a detrimental impact on the volunteer population in a number of rural areas.

Programme design

The general consensus amongst volunteers is that programme design for children and youth is inadequate and needs to change to meet the needs of a more diverse range of young people. Programme design relates to what values are privileged and the cultural outcome of these values. If the club values winning it privileges performance pathways, and invests in children, youth, and volunteers that reproduce these values in behaviour. Clubs have a major impact on children and youth’s activity patterns over an extended period of time, as evidenced by the fact that 80% of current club members join before the age of 7 years (CSPPA, children’s study). Clubs have a responsibility to create a safe environment that encourages children and youth to participate in activity and develop competence, confidence, and connection with other children and adults. Volunteers advocated for providing multiple pathways and opportunities for children and youth to continue in their sport regardless of ability and provide opportunity for them to form connections with other members of the club. There is little evidence of guidelines or resources to support clubs in establishing values and programmes that reflect a child first, sport second approach.

Recommendations The one recommendation of this study is to invest in sport club development and their retention of their volunteer workforce. This is pivotal to the sustainability of youth sport.

It requires the transformation of club culture and structure, and the implementation of professional processes at local and national level.

To progress this recommendation forward requires greater collaborative and joined up thinking amongst stakeholders and leadership from Department of Culture Tourism and

Sport and the Irish Sports Council by:

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