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Volunteers in Sport

Benefits of Volunteering

three athletics offials measure at the long jump pit

Volunteering provides substantial benefits to society and 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.

Research based on the Australian Sports Commission'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

  • 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 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 is good for us and the community! Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Government of South Australia, (13 August 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.
  • Australian kids need active, sporty parents, Factsheet, AusPlay Survey, Australian Sports Commission, (2017).
  • Evidence Insights: Volunteering and mental health, Jack McDermott, Volunteering Australia, (October 2021). This ‘Evidence Insights’ reviews the research landscape on the effects of volunteering on mental health. It draws upon local and international studies which apply qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research designs. There are a broad range of issues at the intersection of volunteering and mental health, including the contributions of volunteers in mental health services, and the role of volunteering in public education on mental health issues. However, this review focuses on the effects of volunteering on the mental health of volunteers themselves. The review concludes with a discussion of priorities for future research and the policy implications of the findings presented.
  • Active Lives, Department for Health and Ageing, Government of South Australia, prepared for the Office of Recreation, Sport and Racing, (2019 and 2021). 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.
    • In the 2021 report regular volunteers (those who volunteered more than once annually), scored better for overall wellbeing (35.8%) than those who didn't volunteer or only volunteered once (28.0%), as well as scoring higher for life satisfaction, feeling happy the previous day and feeling that things they did in life were worthwhile.
    • In the 2019 report, 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%).
  • Participatory arts, sport, physical activity and loneliness: the role of volunteering, what works wellbeing, (December 2020). There is promising evidence that volunteering can improve wellbeing and alleviate loneliness in participatory arts, sport and physical activity. This review shows that volunteering can enhance wellbeing and/or reduce loneliness when taking part in participatory arts, sport and physical activity by: giving and sharing skills, expertise and experience; creating places/spaces of security and trust; providing opportunities for personal skill development.
  • Value of Sport, Sport NZ, (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).
  • Volunteers in Victoria: trends, challenges and opportunities, State of Victoria, Ministerial Council for Volunteers, (June 2017). This report was developed to provide a contemporary narrative for volunteering. It also provides a summary of the known social benefits, economic value and current trends. Findings from this report highlight key trends, challenges and opportunities for volunteering and have informed the development of strategic priorities to strengthen and support the volunteer sector in Victoria. Some key findings included:
    • Most people volunteer because they want to help others and the community (66%), for personal satisfaction (62%), or to do something worthwhile (56%).
    • 75% of Victorian volunteers had a parent who volunteered.
    • Sporting and recreation clubs are the engine room of volunteering – in 2014, 84% of people who volunteered had also participated in organised team sport as a child. This was significantly higher participation than other organised activities, such as youth groups (62%) and arts/cultural activities (52%).
  • 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.
  • Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteers, Join 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. Using the New Philanthropy Capital’s framework, the results showed that – compared to non-volunteers – people who volunteer in sport are significantly higher on the measures of feeling that their life has a sense of purpose, that they are doing something important, feel a sense of pride, and that their life has meaning. Interestingly we found significantly lower wellbeing scores in those who have never volunteered, and significantly higher wellbeing in long-term volunteers compared to those who have just started. More research is needed but the findings suggest that volunteering in sport can be an effective way for people to alleviate the symptoms of major societal problems, including isolation, loneliness and depression. When we looked into what this benefit to wellbeing meant from an economic standpoint, Fujiwara et al (2014) suggested that the impacts of volunteering on each volunteer has a value of £2,537. On top of that, the improvement to the volunteer’s mental health is equivalent to £331 per volunteer, and physical health improvements account for an additional £1064. Taken together, this adds up to a total economic value of £2,974 per volunteer. Looking at the bigger picture, it seems clear that volunteering in sport produces substantial benefits to a person’s overall wellbeing.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australia, 2010, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4917.0, (March 2012) Final report (ceased). 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 and 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.
  • Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Older Adults: An Outcome-Wide Longitudinal Approach, Eric Kim, Ashley Whillans, Matthew Lee,, 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 (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, overweight/obesity, cognitive impairment, and chronic pain), health behaviors (e.g. binge drinking, smoking, and sleep problems), or psychosocial outcomes (e.g. life satisfaction, mastery, health/financial mastery, depression, negative affect, perceived constraints and contact with other family/children).
  • The role of sports volunteering as a signal in the job application process, Sören Wallrodt, Lutz Thieme, European Sport Management Quarterly, Volume 20(3), pp.255-275, (2020). To examine the signaling effect of volunteering activities in CVs, 474 people involved in hiring processes (i.e. hiring managers) participated in this study. Both sports volunteering activities and internship experience were examined as different experimental conditions. Moreover, the subjects were randomly split into different experimental groups and asked to rate the skills and qualifications of a female applicant, and whether they would invite the applicant to an interview and what would be the salary offered upon hiring her for three different jobs. Sports volunteering had a positive effect on hiring managers’ perception of the qualifications of the applicant for all three jobs but affected the outcome of the application differently concerning the likelihood of inviting the applicant to a job interview or the salary that would be offered, but only if the job was closely related to the volunteering activity. The effects of internship experience were marginal.
  • 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, article 58, (December 2016). 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. 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.
  • 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, (November 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.
  • Pioneer volunteers: the role identity of continuous volunteers at sport events, Fairley S, Green B, O’Brian D,, Journal of Sport and 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.


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