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Volunteers in Sport

International practice

A variety of international organisations have commissioned research into the value, motivation, barriers, and management of sport volunteers. A number of countries have also developed volunteer management strategies, plans,  policies, processes and resources aimed at attracting, retaining and managing volunteers.

Sport in Canada relies on a strong club system to support lifelong participation. Volunteers contribute to the effectiveness of grassroots sports organisations. Accordingly, strategies for developing, promoting and encouraging volunteers are embedded in the Canadian sport sector.

  • Sport for Life Leaders School. Leaders School participants are selected in part on the plans they propose to plan, launch and lead projects that advance quality sport or physical literacy in their community or organization.
  • Canadian Code for Volunteer InvolvementVolunteering Canada, (2017). Volunteer Canada created the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement (CCVI) to support organizations that engage volunteers. The CCVI is a guide for involving volunteers in all levels of an organization. The CCVI clearly states the values and benefits of volunteer involvement. It provides a framework for discussion and decision-making within organizations. It also promotes meaningful volunteer involvement that meets the needs of both the organization and its volunteers.
  • Strengthening volunteerism for development in China through the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games - Programme DocumentGovernment of the People's Republic of China & United Nations Development Programme, (2007). The project aims to strengthen and promote national volunteerism and raise awareness of the contributions that volunteers can make towards a sustainable development agenda of the Millennium Development Goals and a Xiao-Kang (well-off) Society through the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
  • Volunteer High Performance Work Systems and Service Performance: An Empirical Study of Beijing Olympic Volunteers, Yujie Cai, Jian Han, Siqing Peng, Luping Sun, Frontiers of Business Research in China, Volume 10(4), pp.605-635, (2016). This study examines the key human resources factors that affect volunteers’ service performance from the perspectives of volunteers and managers in the Beijing Summer Olympic Games of 2008. Survey data were collected from 1,727 volunteers and 243 managers at the Beijing Olympics test events held at 10 venues between November 2007 and April 2008. Regression analysis and a moderation test were combined to test the hypotheses. A set of high performance work systems (HPWS) for volunteers in the Beijing Summer Olympic Games were developed, including performance management, training, recognition, teamwork and volunteer participation. Volunteer HPWS were positively related to psychological empowerment, which was in turn positively related to service recovery performance. Transformational leadership moderates the relationship between volunteer HPWS and psychological empowerment in such a way that the relationship is stronger when transformational leadership is at a higher level than when it is at a lower level. Implications and limitations are also discussed.
  • Beijing transfers the 2008 Beijing Olympics Volunteer Legacy to the 2011 Kazakhstan Asian Winter GamesUN Development Program press release, (16 November 2010). With the rich legacy of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Volunteer work, China has precious experiences to share on volunteer management and promotion of volunteerism through large-scale events.

Sport New Zealand estimates there are 41,000 people paid to work in sport in New Zealand, but close to 1 million people volunteer. Active NZ estimated that 28.1% of adults had volunteered at least once over the previous year (2013/14) and these volunteers contributed 67.7 million hours of volunteered time over 12 months, with an estimated market value of NZ$1.031b.

  • Recruit and manage volunteers, Sport NZ, (accessed 26 August 2020). Information from Sport NZ aims to help organisations understand volunteers' motivations for becoming involved and keep them at the heart of the sector.
    • Aktive Volunteer Management Toolkit, (September 2019). The purpose of the Toolkit is to provide information, insights and ideas that will assist organisations to find and look after volunteers who can help to deliver their sport or activity.
  • Finding and Keeping Volunteers: What the research tells usSport and Recreation New Zealand (2006). SPARC research indicates that the number of adults who volunteer as coaches, referees, administrators, or assist with other organisational duties has remained constant. However, demand for volunteer services continues to grow. Without a significant increase in the supply of volunteers there is a real threat to the delivery of organised sport and recreation in New Zealand. The purpose of this document is to provide information from research that supports and encourages sport and recreation organisations to develop better volunteer management practices. Sporting organisations need to provide quality volunteering experiences and ultimately encourage more New Zealanders to step forward and volunteer.
  • The Heart of Sport: the Experiences and Motivations of Sports VolunteersSport and Recreation New Zealand, (2007). Research suggests that people can demonstrate a range of motivations, attitudes and behaviours in their interactions with sports organisations. Understanding the motivation of those who volunteer and the impact of their experiences on their future involvement as a sports volunteer is important for those trying to encourage participation in volunteer roles.
  • Rugby World Cup 2011 volunteering resourcesSport NZ, (accessed 13 May 2020). The 2011 Rugby World Cup was supported by New Zealand's biggest ever volunteer effort. Officially called the Rugby World Cup 2011 Volunteer Programme, it saw an unpaid workforce of more than 5000 play a crucial role in the delivery of a great sporting event. This resource covers planning, recruitment, training, volunteer compliance, uniform distribution, scheduling, reward and recognition, research and reporting.
  • 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).
  • Sport New Zealand Volunteering Insights ReportGemba for Sport New Zealand, (2015). This report was commissioned to better inform the New Zealand sport sector; having three objectives: (1) understanding the underlying drivers and the level of engagement; (2) viewing sport as seen by its consumers; and (3) providing detailed analysis of key measures. Data was weighted by age, gender and location according to the latest New Zealand Census. Key insights provided in this report follow:
    • The recruitment of volunteers at an early age is critical. Volunteers begin their service at an early age (16-24 years old) and are likely to serve for a significant period of time.
    • Sport volunteers are also participants of their respective sports. On average, 54% of sports volunteers have participated in that sport in the last 12 months. Those participating in the sport will be most effective and will help to drive sustainable levels of volunteers.
    • The motivations of volunteers are selfless. They serve for the enjoyment achieved from giving back to their community and/or sport, and care little about the rewards they receive in return. The majority of participants intend to continue volunteering, and could be incentivised by more training and development, and better support from clubs and parents.
    • The intrinsic rewards (doing something worthwhile and contributing to their community) that motivate volunteers mean that their rationale for giving up volunteering are due to time restraints or other commitments, rather than a lack of appreciation.
    • Older (45 to 64 year old) volunteer coaches are the most qualified and engaged coaches. When compared with younger coaches, older coaches are the most likely to have received coaching development or to have achieved a coaching qualification.
    • Older coaches have more experience and are likely to be working at all levels of sport; 60% have coached for six years or more. Older coaches are also the most likely to coach at a diverse range of coaching locations.
  • University Network of Volunteer Training Centers as a Social Project of the Sochi-2014 Olympic Winter Games Heritage, Nina Pestereva, Procedia - Social & Behavioral Sciences, Volume 214, pp.279-284, (December 2015). According to the criteria of International Olympic Committee (IOC), one of the performance indices of holding an Olympic Games is 'Olympic Games heritage'. At the modern stage of social and economic development of the country, the priceless international experience of training the Olympics Volunteers for Sochi 2014 is extremely important for Russian society. This research gives the integrated analysis of government support measures, private and public partnerships, contribution of non-profit, youth and student organizations into creation of the university volunteer training centers network.

Volunteering in an Active Nation: Strategy 2017-2021. Sport England, (2017). By investing in volunteering, measuring the benefits (to volunteers as well as the community), and using the knowledge we gain to fulfil volunteers’ expectations, we’ll be able to tap even more of the country’s vast volunteering potential. From 2021 to 2025 Sport England's focus will expand to involving a larger proportion of the population in engaging and helping out in sport and physical activity.

Active Lives: Adult Survey, November 2018/19 ReportSport England, (April 2020). Based on people having volunteered at least twice in the last 12 months, Sport England found that men continue to be much more likely to volunteer in sport and activity (58% male; 42% female). This is in contrast to more general volunteering, where men and women were equally represented. Male volunteers in sport also held positions of influence as coaches, officials and committee members more often. The report also found that people from lower socio-economic groups were less likely to volunteer (making up only 11% of volunteers, although they make up 31% of the population), and people with a disability, who make up 21% of the population, account for only 13% of volunteers.

Sport + Recreation Alliance, (accessed 26 August 2020). This website provides information and resources about recruiting, rewarding and retaining volunteers and includes a volunteer register for volunteer opportunities and another for organisations looking for volunteers.

  • 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.

Join In. Join In matches people to volunteering opportunities at clubs in their area.

The Youth Sport Trust (YST) is an independent charity, established in 1994, that aims to help all young people achieve their full potential in life by delivering high quality physical education and sport opportunities. Promoting ‘volunteering’ is an important part of YST leadership programs and workforce development. The Youth Sport Trust runs a variety of programs to encourage and promote volunteering in sport and physical education.

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