Why volunteers are the lifeblood of our game

Playing soccer

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.

Youth football

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.

Angel City FC: Uplifting women and strengthening communities

Los Angeles is a city that produces pioneers and cultural influencers across various industries, including entertainment, technology, and sports. The Angel City FC epitomises LA’s ambition and innovative essence more than any other organisation.

Alexis Ohanian, Co-founder of Reddit, Initialised Capital and Seven Seven Six, is the largest shareholder as an individual investor for the club, however, he does not hold a majority of the equity or control of the board, instead sharing authority with co-owners Julie Uhrman, entrepreneur with a talent for community building and ranks among the most influential figures in the sports business industry as well as being President of the club. Joining in the ranks as founders are Kara Nortman, a visionary venture capitalist and , the acclaimed Academy Award winning actress and passionate advocate for women’s rights.

Angel City FC’s journey started following the US Women’s National Team’s 2019 World Cup victory. The triumph, which garnered record viewership, alongside movements for gender and pay equity, propelled the creation of the club has obtained attention since it was awarded expansion license for the 2022 season back in 2020.

Capitalising on the World Cup momentum and data indicating strong fan interest in women’s sports, the group established Angel City FC, confident in the increasing value and growth potential.

Angel City FC’s business strategy in sports is truly pioneering. By implementing creative revenue models, including distinctive sponsorship arrangements and a dedication to community investment, the club has shown that supporting women’s sports holds significant, untapped commercial potential. It is important to highlight that the club’s sponsorship model, which allocates 10% of sponsorship dollars back into the community.

Rocky Rodriguez headers the ball
Image credit: NWSL website

This approach has redirected over $4.5 million into the community, forging partnerships with Hollywood A-listers and influential activists like Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner, and Eva Longoria, are amongst an ownership group over 100 strong, most of whom are women.

Through a new partnership with HubSpot, Angel City FC will support women athletes via a fund dedicated to post-retirement education and entrepreneurship endeavours. Emphasising revenue sharing and community reinvestment, Angel City FC persistently adopts a groundbreaking approach to achieve commercial success while advancing its broader mission.

Central to Angel City’s mission is the community it serves and builds. In its brief existence, the club has successfully cultivated a diverse and inclusive fan base, resulting in unprecedented support and engagement.

Angel City’s impressive 90% season ticket holder retention rate and strategic, values-aligned sponsorships further attest to the club’s success in community building. “How do we leave the community better than when we started?” Uhrman emphasises as a key question the club seriously contemplates with each partnership opportunity.

Consider the partnership with Sprouts Farmers Market. Through this collaboration, the club focuses on nutrition and education, partnering with two local schools to create gardens and host free monthly farmers markets benefiting the community. Additionally, an education program teaches children about nutrition and the importance of developing strong bodies, further enhancing the impact of the Sprouts partnership.

While Sportico reported that for the clubs first season in 2022, the new entity had already been valued at more than $150m approximately, Angel City’s average crowd attendance for the 2022 and 2023 seasons at BMO stadium had surpassed Sydney FC’s attendance during the 2022/23 A-League Men season by approximately 3000, which led the competition.

With at least four more expansion franchises planned in the coming years, perhaps the question is why the A-Leagues can’t strive to establish their own Angel City FC, or at the very least, embrace the concept of standalone women’s teams in the A-League Women?

However, Uhrman, on her end, recognises that the Angel City model isn’t universally applicable and cannot simply be replicated everywhere around the world.

The NWSL was established in 2012, the following year was when matches were played, ever since then NWSL is being praised for reaching a stage where there is ongoing work needed to address sustainability and player safety concerns (the league has faced a series of abuse scandals in recent years).

With new investments and ambitions, such as relocating its headquarters from Chicago to New York, aligning with the MLS and America’s major sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL – the league is poised to strengthen its foundations and sustainability as it enters a new phase of existence.

In this phase, the NWSL not only aims to solidify its position in the American sports hierarchy but also seeks to distinguish itself within the rapidly expanding women’s football ecosystem worldwide.

The club’s website has a dedicated category for their six unique supporter groups, with each of them having social media platform and a website, with a brief description about each group. Looking at this from an Australian footballing perspective, it all sounds too good to be true, how Angel City FC has excelled the marketing area for its club efficiently in a short period of time, whereas compared to the clubs here in the country, it needs to take learnings from America on how they implement the marketing strategies in different area of a football club and apply it for their respected clubs.

Football Coaches Australia to host webinar with Dr Ron Smith

Football Coaches Australia (FCA) has confirmed details of their next webinar, to be held on Monday, June 10, 2024.

Dr Ron Smith will deliver an online session to share insights for players in a complex football environment, dubbed ‘keep it simple’.

The session itself will be broken down into two parts, as Dr Ron Smith will outline what he thinks a coach can do to help players improve their performance and understanding.

Firstly, the focus will be on what players can do with and without the ball when the team is in possession. The second part of the session will see Dr Ron Smith explain why certain behaviours are better than others and why they will always be present.

Another important aspect will be how the language used to communicate with players can be more effective; by keeping it simple and easy to understand.

This event is free for FCA members, while all participants will qualify for one hour of CPD which links with Football Australia

The date and duration of the webinar is for Monday, June 10 at 7.30PM – 9PM AEST.

To register, you can do so by following the link here.

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