Try volunteering to stay engaged, get out of a rut

Putting your hand up for local volunteering doesn’t have to be sports and can help if you are...
Putting your hand up for local volunteering doesn’t have to be sports and can help if you are feeling stuck in a rut. Photo: Getty
It's a Monday morning, after a mighty win by the West Taieri Ladies B Team in the Division 3 hockey final.

I am reading the paper and sipping my black coffee — no breakfast allowed, I am intermittent fasting — when my husband quips, "no mention of your hockey win there". Once again, the ODT has not appreciated the significant following of the West Taieri Ladies B Team, nor realised that the sight of one of us, clad in a miniskirt, swinging a hockey stick, would create the sort of feedback that schoolboy rugby could never compete with — sadly, a missed opportunity. Maybe next year ODT, if we are still able to walk by then.

It is an important time of year for me — the physical peak of my sporting calendar, coinciding with the lengthening of the days and the start of the cricket season. Soon I will be puttering around Dunedin pitches, oat milk latte in hand — sorry dairy industry — listening to excessive appeals and trying to pretend that Dunedin weather is cricket appropriate.

As my sport code changes, so does my tribe. People I haven’t seen in months come out of hibernation. The delight in discovering what player has gone where and the sharing of parental high and lowlights (the second part taking longer) marking the season’s start.

My sports seasons have a lovely rhythm about them and a wonderful sense of community. Increasingly however, the seasons are tinged with sadness as I notice the drop-off in participation and the continual struggling of all codes to find volunteers — for umpiring, refereeing, coaching, managing teams you name it, people are not committing how they used to.

When this column is published, I will be in Christchurch, managing my daughter’s high school hockey team — I consider myself privileged to be able to take this on, one of the perks of being self-employed. I have been doing this kind of thing for a while now and have noticed the increase in paperwork — the expectations for schools and clubs keeps increasing, with little extra administrative support.

The Covid environment has exacerbated the problem and, as always with compliance, once someone, somewhere puts something new in place — no matter how pointless — it is rarely undone. Some of these requirements are important for running sport safely, but what doesn’t seem to happen is co-ordination between groups running events and the different organisations running teams — there is an awful lot of double-ups of form-filling and butt-covering.

Volunteers are the people who make the competitions and the games run smoothly, we lose them at our peril. It’s not just the paperwork that is putting volunteers off. Sideline abuse is genuinely awful for referees and umpires. However, the biggest battle we are facing is lack of time. We are time-poor, rushing around doing things which seem important, but probably aren’t. We are reluctant to put our hands up for fear of being overwhelmed with compliance and paperwork — we do this for fun, remember — so our hands stay down, volunteer numbers drop, leaving more in the hands of the ever-decreasing stalwarts. I get it, I have looked at my feet many a time when help is called on.

What happens if we do put our hands up? By volunteering, we meet new people — across generations, we stay engaged, we find new tribes and we create a sense of purpose and belonging. In a world of increasing disconnectedness, especially across generations, volunteering creates relationships and friendships with people we would otherwise have never met.

If you are someone who is feeling stuck in a rut, friendship- or community-wise, whatever age you are, I strongly encourage you to reach out to a local club or school. Volunteering doesn’t have to be sports. It could be helping young readers, assisting backstage at productions, making costumes, marshalling during a fun-run or supporting a charity — it really doesn’t matter. It’s about finding a tribe and making it your tribe.

 - Anna Campbell is a co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company. She also holds various directorships.