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Volunteers in Sport

Benefits of volunteering

While volunteering provides substantial benefits to society, it also provides significant benefits to the volunteers themselves. The act of volunteering has been linked to positive mental, social, and physical benefits. Research also shows that older volunteers experience less depression and greater life satisfaction than those who do not volunteer. It is important to recognise and foster these personal benefits of volunteering.

There appears to be a ‘volunteering threshold’ of one to two hours per week, or 40 to 100 hours per year, to derive health benefits.

Sport Australia's AusPlay Survey suggests that when a parent participates in sport and volunteers at a sports club, their children’s participation rate is higher (89%). When a parent is not involved as a sport participant themselves, or is not a club volunteer, their children’s participation rate drops to 50%.

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Additional resources

  • Australian kids need active, sporty parents, Factsheet, AusPlay Survey, Australian Sports Commission, (2017).
  • The changing face of volunteerism, Steggles A, Higher Logic, (2014). This paper details some of the challenges facing volunteerism. Associations are embracing a hybrid approach to incorporate alternative engagement opportunities for their membership, allowing a much broader audience and greater level of engagement, satisfaction and ultimately, a higher retention rate.
  • Regular volunteer work provides demonstrable benefits for the health and well-being of older adults, Elsevier, Medical Xpress, (11 June 2020). A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, takes a closer look at the benefits of volunteering to the health and well-being of volunteers. The results verify that adults over 50 who volunteer for at least 100 hours a year (about two hours per week) have a substantially reduced risk of mortality and developing physical limitations, higher levels of subsequent physical activity and improved sense of well-being later on compared to individuals who do not volunteer.
  • Volunteering: Building Stronger Communities, Discussion PaperGovernment of Western Australia, Department for Communities, (2010). Volunteers are an invaluable resource to the social, economic, environmental and cultural strength of Western Australia. Active volunteers and well-supported community groups build connected communities by strengthening the ties between people, encouraging participation, and responding to the changing needs of the community.
  • Volunteering is good for us and the community! Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Government of South Australia, (2020). Did you know the labour input of volunteers across South Australia has been valued at up to $453 million annually? Through the Active Lives survey (2019) conducted by the Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing (ORSR) we found that South Australians who volunteered for a sport organisation more than once in the previous 12 months, were more satisfied with their life; felt the things they did were more worthwhile; and were happier than those people who did not volunteer, or volunteered only once. South Australians who did volunteer more than once in the previous 12 months, also had higher social capital measures than those who did not volunteer, or volunteered only once.
  • Volunteers: the "heartbeat" of Olympic legacy, International Olympic Committee, (6 December 2019). Volunteers are often hailed for being the “lifeblood” of the Olympic Games, working tirelessly to ensure their success. From gaining lifetime skills and unique experiences to promoting the Olympic spirit and creating new volunteer cultures, Olympic volunteers have created legacies which often continue to benefit them and their countries to this day.
  • Active Lives, Department for Health and Ageing, Government of South Australia, prepared for the Office of Recreation, Sport and Racing, (2019). The majority of the questions in this survey have been adapted from the ‘Active Lives’ survey published by Sport England. Additional questions regarding health and wellbeing, community connectedness and individual development were included in the survey to investigate their relationship with physical activity. In regards to volunteering, the survey aimed to determine the rates of volunteering to support sport and physical activity and the link between volunteering in sport and wellbeing and social outcomes.
    • 31.1% of respondents reported volunteering their time for a sporting organisation in the last 12-months. Of these respondents, around half reported raising funds for a sports club, organisation or event (53.4%) or providing  other help for a sport or recreational physical activity (51.1%).
    • Regular volunteers (those who volunteered more than once annually), scored better for overall wellbeing (36.4%) than those who didn't volunteer or only volunteered once (28.1%), as well as scoring higher for life satisfaction, feeling happy the previous day and feeling that things they did in life were worthwhile.
    • Although there was no significant difference in community connectedness between regular volunteers and those who did not regularly volunteer, regular volunteers reported higher social capital measures than who did not volunteer or volunteered only once. Nearly three-quarters (72.4%) of regular volunteers agreed that they felt safe walking in their community after dark (compared to 62.7%), 79.8% identified with the local community (compared to 58.3%), and 72.6% agreed that if there was a serious problem in their local community the people would come together to solve it (compared to 59.2%).
  • The Advantage Line: identifying better practice for volunteer management in community rugby clubs, Cuskelly G, Taylor T, Hoye R, Darcy S, Australian Research Council and the Australian Rugby Union, (2006). This report provides a descriptive analysis of data collected from Rugby Union clubs and their volunteers. The purpose of this study was to develop a better understanding of how to manage the activities of volunteers.
  • The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research, Corporation for National Community Service, Washington DC (2007). A growing body of research indicates that volunteering provides not just social benefits, but individual health benefits as well. Research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and personal health and wellbeing. Volunteers tend to have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression (particularly later in life) than those who do not volunteer. This report offers key findings from this body of research, along with an analysis of the relationship between volunteering and the health and wellbeing of the volunteer. Report Summary.
  • Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteersJoin in, (2014). Going beyond traditional valuation methods, which use the cost-replacement model, the research investigated the true value of sports volunteering to personal wellbeing and happiness of the volunteers themselves, plus the wider benefit to their communities.
  • Givers: Recruit, manage and retain your volunteers more effectivelyJoin in, Sport + Recreation Alliance, Simetrica, (April 2017). For the first time, groundbreaking behavioural science research, has given us new evidence and insight into what drives people to volunteer and what keeps them from doing so. We’ve distilled these insights into a simple framework to help grassroots clubs and organisations recruit, retain and realise the potential of volunteers. We call this GIVERS. It stands for: Growth; Impact: Voice: Ease and Experience; Recognition; Social.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australia, 2010Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4917.0, (March 2012) Final. This report examines the relationship between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing using a range of indicators from the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS). This report shows the associations between participation and a range of social indicators that may be used to assess social capital and wellbeing. Literature suggests that volunteering in the community is an important contributor to the development and maintenance of social capital (Nicholson & Hoye 2008). Data from the GSS show that sport participants are an important source of volunteers in the community. Over three quarters of those who volunteered their time and services to an organisation also participated in some sport or recreational activity during that same time period. The participation rate for non-volunteers was much lower.
  • Sport’s unsung heroes: Involvement in non-playing roles, Australian Bureau of Statistics (Perspectives on Sport series), Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001, (June 2011). Many local sporting clubs rely on volunteers to fill diverse roles; such as coaches, referees, committee members, groundskeepers and canteen workers; many local sporting clubs rely on volunteers to fill these roles. The time commitment involved and in some cases the need for specialised skills and knowledge, makes the people who occupy these non-playing roles a valuable community resource. This article looks at the characteristics of people in non-playing roles in the sport and active recreation sector.
  • Value of SportSport NZ, (17 March 2018). A study exploring the value of sport to New Zealanders, their communities and our country. The Value of Sport is based on extensive research, including a survey of around 2,000 New Zealanders and a review of previous studies from here and around the world. Active NZ in 2013/14 estimated that 28.1% of adults had volunteered at least once over the previous year and these volunteers contributed 67.7 million hours of volunteered time over 12 months with an estimated market value of NZ$1.031b. 35% of volunteers state that their reason for volunteering is to contribute to their community. 25% of volunteers are also motivated by the opportunity to gain new skills (and improve employment opportunities).
  • Volunteering is Catching: a study into young people's volunteering in Victoria, Wynne C, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, (2011). This study draws on a contemporary understanding of volunteering that captures both the informal and formal volunteering activities of young people and defines youth volunteering as an activity where young people (aged 12 to 25) freely give their time and energy to benefit another individual, group or community. This report aims to understand the contemporary experience of volunteering for Victoria’s young people.
  • Youth volunteering in Australia: An evidence review, Walsh L and Black R, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), (2015). The literature shows that young people in Australia do engage in volunteering, both in formal and informal contexts. The drivers of young people’s volunteering activity are varied. The benefits of volunteering for young people are both personal and social and include strengthening social relationships, developing skills, enhancing career prospects, contributing to community and ‘making a difference’. While not specific to the sport sector, the review of literature highlights many of the barriers and facilitators of youth volunteering and the characteristics of volunteers in general. Sport and recreation is identified as the single largest sector for youth engagement as volunteers.
  • Determinants and Outcomes of Volunteer Satisfaction in Mega Sports Events, Daehwan Kim Chanmin Park, Hany Kim, and Jeeyoon Kim, Sustainability, Volume 11(7), (2019). The role of volunteers is an important factor for the sustainability of mega sports events. Key issues in the literature on sports event volunteers are volunteer satisfaction and its determinants and outcomes. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the effects of the fulfillment of volunteers’ psychological needs and volunteer management practices (VMP) on overall volunteer satisfaction and to test their conditional effects depending on volunteer involvement. Overall volunteer satisfaction was found to positively affect future volunteering intention, spreading positive words regarding sports event volunteering, and intention to visit the host city as tourists. In conclusion, sports event managers need to design an optimal work environment that can fulfill volunteers’ psychological needs and improve VMP to enhance the sustainability of mega sports events.
  • The impact of volunteer experience at sport mega‐events on intention to continue volunteering: Multigroup path analysis, Hyejin Bang, Gonzalo A. Bravo, Katiuscia Mello, et.al., Journal of Community Psychology, Volume 47(4), pp.727-742, (May 2019). This study examined the impacts of volunteers’ motivation and satisfaction through Olympic/Paralympic volunteering experiences on their intention to volunteer for future community events. It also examined the moderating role of previous volunteering experience in the relationships among motivations, satisfaction and intention to continue volunteering. Path analysis revealed that among the total sample, motivations had direct and indirect (through satisfaction) effects on intention to volunteer. Results of multigroup path analysis showed that the relationships among motivations, satisfaction and intention vary by returning and first‐time volunteers, supporting the moderating role of prior volunteering experience in the path model.
  • Is mid-life social participation associated with cognitive function at age 50? Results from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS), Bowling A, Pikhartova J and Dodgeon B, BMC Psychology, Volume 4(Art.# 58), (2016). Some studies have indicated that social engagement is associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life. This study investigated the associations between life-course social engagement (including volunteering, sport participation and civic participation) and cognitive status, at age 50. Data were taken from the National Child Development Study in the United Kingdom, a nationally representative, prospective birth cohort of 9119 subjects (4497 men and 4622 women). Cognitive ability was measured at 11 years, participation in activities at age 33 years, participation in sports at age 42 years and cognitive ability (i.e. memory and executive functioning) at age 50 years. The data were analysed, adjusting for  behavioural, health, social and socio-economic characteristics and social networks and support. Frequent engagement in physical activity and voluntary community activities were significantly and independently associated with cognitive status at age 50 after statistically adjusting for covariates (health and socio-economic status and gender). Being physically active and engaging in civic participation during mid-life appears to promote cognitive function in later life. The strength of this study is in its longitudinal design, but the authors caution that causation is not implied. This paper contributes to the body of literature on potential behavioural risk factors for cognitive decline and the potential benefits of physical activity and civic participation.
  • Measuring motivation to volunteer for special events, Monga M, Event Management, Volume 10(1), pp.47-61, (2006). The author has developed a measurement scale for motivation to volunteer for special events. This article first explores several fundamental aspects of the complexities of the relationship between the volunteer and the event organiser. It then presents a five-dimensional model to better understand the motivations of special event volunteers, as measured by a 26-item scale developed on the basis of a literature review on special events and motivation to volunteer. Finally, the scale is tested in a survey and the findings are presented.
  • Pioneer volunteers: the role identity of continuous volunteers at sport events, Fairley S, Green B, O’Brian D and Chalip L, Journal of Sport & Tourism, Volume 19(3-4), pp.233-255, (2014). This study looks at the role identity of 125 volunteers during lead-up events as well as their participation in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In addition, a small sample were interviewed 12 years after the Olympics. Six themes described the experience of ‘pioneer volunteers’ (i.e. continuous volunteer participation): (1) friendship and teamwork; (2) prestige; (3) behind the scenes access and knowledge of the event; (4) learning enabled by their experience; (5) a sense of connection with and ownership of the event; and (6) transition to Games time roles. Pioneer volunteers experienced a strong and sustained identification with their role and sought out continued opportunities to volunteer in future events.
  • Reconsidering the role of training in event volunteers’ satisfaction, Costa C, Chalip L, Green C and Simes C, Sport Management Review, Volume 9(2), pp.165-182, (2006). To effectively recruit and retain volunteers, there is a need to identify ways of enhancing their overall satisfaction with the volunteer experience. This study surveyed non-specialist volunteers (N=147) participating in the Sunbelt IndyCarnival. The survey looked at measuring  job satisfaction,  training, organisational commitment, sense of community at the event and satisfaction with opportunities to share opinions and experiences during training. The survey found that sense of community had a positive effect on commitment to the event organisation and this commitment  had a direct effect on volunteer job satisfaction. The authors argue that  event volunteer training should be conceived and designed to build a sense of community among volunteers and staff and enhance their commitment and satisfaction.
  • Volunteer motives and retention in community sport: A study of Australian Rugby Clubs, Cuskelly G, Taylor T, Darcy S, Australian Journal on Volunteering, Volume 13(2), (2008). The retention of volunteers has been identified as a significant organisational challenge for community sport organisations. In this study, 402 volunteers from community rugby clubs were surveyed about their motivations to volunteer and intention to remain as volunteers. The results indicate that while volunteer motivations are primarily based on altruistic values, intentions of volunteers to remain with their club are only moderately affected by these motives.
  • Volunteer retention in community sport organisations, Cuskelly G, European Sport Management Quarterly, Volume 4(2), pp.59-76, (2004). This paper examines and explains trends in volunteer participation and retention using continuity theory, within the context of government policies aimed at increasing participation in community sport. A secondary analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) is used to illustrate recent volunteer and player participation trends in sport.
  • Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Older Adults: An Outcome-Wide Longitudinal Approach, Eric S.Kim, Ashley V. Whillans, Matthew T.Lee, et.al., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 59(2), pp.176-186, (August 2020). During the 4-year follow-up period, participants who volunteered ≥100 hours/year (versus 0 hours/year) had a reduced risk of mortality and physical functioning limitations, higher physical activity and better psychosocial outcomes (higher: positive affect, optimism and purpose in life; lower: depressive symptoms, hopelessness, loneliness, and infrequent contact with friends). Volunteering was not associated with other physical health outcomes (i.e. diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, overweight/obesity, cognitive impairment, and chronic pain), health behaviors (i.e. binge drinking, smoking, and sleep problems), or psychosocial outcomes (i.e. life satisfaction, mastery, health/financial mastery, depression, negative affect, perceived constraints and contact with other family/children).
  • Volunteering is associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment, Infurna F, Okun M and Grimm K, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Volume 64(11), pp.2263-2269, (2016). Longitudinal data (1998 to 2012) taken from the Health and Retirement Study (N=13,262) in the United States looked at whether psychosocial factors, such as volunteering, are associated with risk of cognitive impairment. Interviews with subjects age 60 years and older were conducted every two years to collect data and assess the risk of cognitive decline associated with a number of factors. The study found that volunteering regularly over time, independently decreased the risk of cognitive impairment over the 14 year period of this study. This finding was independent of other known risk factors for cognitive impairment. Civic engagement among older adults has been associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment. This knowledge should provide the impetus for possible interventions. Given the increasing number of baby boomers entering old age, these findings support the psychosocial benefits of volunteering.
  • Volunteers and mega sporting events: Developing a research framework, Baum T and Lockstone L, International Journal of Event Management Research, Volume 3(1), pp.29-41, (2007). This paper seeks to identify the evidence gaps that exist in understanding areas such as what volunteers do at mega sporting events; who they are; what motivates them; how volunteering impacts upon their lives; what associated activities they do surrounding the event in the host city; and the ongoing extent of volunteering.
  • Handbook on volunteering of migrants in sports clubs and organisationsEuropean Sport Inclusion Network and Football Association of Ireland, (2016). Volunteering plays an important role in bringing people together to achieve common community or societal goals. Sports clubs can provide a focal point for a community, offering common ground where people from diverse backgrounds can collectively work together. This Handbook has been developed as a guide and support for potential volunteers with a migrant background who have an interest in volunteering their time in sport. It has also been developed for local clubs and sports organisations interested in encouraging and involving more people from diverse backgrounds to volunteer within sport.
  • Inclusive FuturesYouth Sport Trust UK, (2016). This leadership and volunteering initiative for young people provides  good practice guidelines and toolkits to help guide sports clubs and event organisers support inclusive volunteering opportunities.
  • The Disability ResourceLa Trobe University, (accessed 11 May 2020). This website is designed to help volunteers and staff who facilitate sport and active recreation experiences understand how best to work with people with disabilities. The website includes online courses and resources that can be used as a reference guide for volunteers and staff.

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