Turn up your people power
| 5 min read
Parent volunteers are the backbone of rec sports programs. But it’s no secret—parents are busy. Administrators often need to get creative to fill positions. Especially the top volunteer position in any rec sports organization: Coach.
“From the moment of registration, finding coaches is the number one greatest source of stress and anxiety,” says Colt Chase, executive director of the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association for the past nine years. On average, he needs to fill 250 coaching positions each season. Once registration is closed, his recruiting efforts go into beast mode.
Here are some of Chase’s tips and tricks for recruiting volunteers, season after season.
If you don’t ask, the answer is no. Get the word out to your community. Chase emails teams directly when a coach is needed. “Half of the spots get filled in the first 72 hours of putting out the call,” he says.
He also posts his volunteer needs on social media, along with the job details and available support. He encourages parents to circulate the ask. “Even if they can’t coach, someone in their world might be able to help us to expand our reach,” he says.
Stay strong when people offer to manage the snack shack, order spirit wear, or do anything but coach. “I’m in a position where I need a coach,” says Chase. “I’m not interested in giving people an out.”
“There’s this idea that it’s so much work to be a coach,” says Chase. Some sports are more challenging, but youth soccer has an easy entry level for coaching. “It’s not the massive commitment that it may seem,” Chase says. No matter what you need, be honest with your volunteers.
Some parent volunteers are afraid of committing to a lifetime of coaching. “Just because you volunteer this season doesn’t mean you’re expected to volunteer next season,” says Chase. He points out that if every parent on a team volunteered to coach just one year, the league would be set for 10 years!
It’s up to league administrators to alleviate parent concerns and encourage them to apply.
Chase plays a role that’s one part salesman, one part psychologist. He had a team that had three parents sign up to be assistant coach. He helped them see that they could work together without a head coach, by taking turns running practices and having the flexibility to miss some practices.
Not having adequate sports knowledge is a fear that stops many parents from raising their hand. Remind them that, at the younger ages especially, it’s all about having a good time.
“A coach’s primary role is to make sure these kids have a good experience and want to continue to play at the end of the season,” says Chase. Putting the focus on fun takes the pressure off a volunteer.
If you’ve been to any sports practice for 6-year-olds, the term “herding cats” makes perfect sense. There’s a lot of non-coaching management that needs to happen in the younger age group. Many parents find it challenging to deal with their own young child’s feelings while trying to coach. Chase came up with a solution to fill this volunteer gap. For kinder through 2nd grade teams, he hires coaches—often high school students looking for a fun job. “Most of the parents really want to just enjoy being a parent to their kid,” says Chase. “So, I am willing to hire and pay a coach for the younger ages.”
Waving registration fees for volunteer coaches is a great carrot to dangle in front of parents. Chase even offers to pay parent coaches of kinder through 2nd grade teams, just like he would a high school student.
How about college graduates? “There are so many young college-aged kids who grow up in the program,” says Chase. He looks to this group once they return home.
Chase also refs for an adult soccer league and recruits volunteers from those teams.
A happy volunteer is an effective volunteer. Make sure your coaches have what they need—training, equipment, resources… MOJO!—to make their season successful.
And showing appreciation goes a long way. “Volunteer appreciation is keeping tabs, interacting with them, making sure that I’m present at games,” says Chase. He wants his people to know that he values them. “Ten percent of your organization is volunteering for 90 percent of what’s needed,” says Chase, “so make it worth their time.”