Taking place between Monday May 17 and Sunday May 23, National Volunteer Week (NVW) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers. NVW recognises the significant contributions of over six million of them throughout the country, with over 600 million hours reportedly spent helping others each year.
Since 2014, Australia has seen a 20 per cent decline in the number of hours volunteers give – during COVID-19, two-thirds of volunteers stopped working. In this modern era of uncertainty where time is as important a commodity as it’s ever been, collaboration should be a priority amongst Australians. Particularly in how we adapt to the lives of volunteers and engage volunteers to continue their incredible output and contributions.
The last few years has seen Australia as a nation dealing with drought, devastating bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. Whilst many of us stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers dedicated their efforts to delivering essential services, organising food packages and providing care, comfort and plenty more in support of Australians. Through crisis Australia persevered and this resilience was built off of the collective strength exhibited by our nation’s volunteers.
Many people in the last year saw their mental health take a significant hit, particularly in a year where isolation and loneliness were forced upon us, adding to financial stress, anxiety and fear. Volunteering can be a tool which facilitates not just a reconnection with others, but a reengagement with the world around us and the community spirit that drives our local competitions that are the building blocks for many of our sporting and social aspirations.
Those interested in contributing to football off the park would have benefitted by the experience of contributing to a local grassroots club where the reward is ensuring the game that we love is played week in, week out.
Truthfully, university students are best placed to gain authentic experience in a grassroots football environment, with roles on offer across the board in media, health, finance, legal and coaching capacities among many others. The manner in which obstacles are overcome in grassroots football is like nowhere else, and it is a substantial learning curve for those willing to give their time to the game.
In honour of NVW, Football Victoria, Football Queensland and Football NSW have all published articles this week which aim to put a spotlight on the tireless work of individual volunteers across clubs in their respective states. Each story reflects the positive impact of volunteers for Australian football – from Jasmine Hirst’s contributions towards growing the game for women and girls as Vice President of Darebin Falcons Women’s Sports Club, to Buderim Wanderers’ Brigitte DeCourcy being named as the April recipient of the Volunteer of the Month Award for her efforts that date as far back as the 1980s.
These stories stir a myriad of memories that one will undeniably have from playing football in their youth, whilst ensuring a newfound appreciation for the volunteers we’d encounter growing up who put their heart and soul into the clubs they loved.
Football has seen a downturn of volunteers in the last year, with Football Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Cavallucci noting last month that “research by Volunteering Australia suggests that an estimated two in three volunteers stepped away from their roles in 2020 due in part to COVID-19 restrictions.” Obviously, this is wholeheartedly understandable, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching effects across Australian football.
Volunteers are an essential part of the Australian football family, with contributions being made to the everyday running of clubs and organisations right across the country at grassroots, semi-professional and professional levels of the sport. Campaigns such as Football Queensland’s Good2GiveBack initiative demonstrate a push towards recognition and respect of volunteers, those of whom were the reason why we have the memories of weekend football that we all do.
Saturday and Sunday league football harkens back to memories of being driven to games by your parents. Of sharing the responsibility of washing the team’s jerseys between each player. Of your parents – some louder than others – issuing you on through a haze of discombobulated moments of play and opportunities to win the second, third, fourth and fifth ball that deflected in between you, your teammates and the opposition.
And it was often these same parents who took on the role of coach, team manager, trainer, barbecue wrangler (or accompanying jostler) and canteen attendant. Volunteering and initiative are intrinsically tied in with the idea of community. The building of collaborative spirit, through a dedication to assuring one’s love for the game is fostered in the same way for their kids, is pivotal to developing the next generation of Australian footballers.