Friday 13 December 2019

All sports see benefits when parents get involved

Volunteerism is the lifeblood of sport and local communities, writes John Greene


John Greene

It may come as a surprise to those who volunteer with a local sports club to learn that 84 per cent of Irish parents with children aged between five and 18 claim to be involved in some way in sport, and that almost half of them say they are involved in Gaelic football, soccer or swimming.

You can be sure this scarcely credible claim will be a pleasant surprise to the GAA, FAI and Swim Ireland, who like every sporting organisation in the country – big or small – are always desperate for volunteers.

A total of 545 parents were surveyed last month to coincide with the launch of the GAA's Kellogg's Cúl Camps and this was the headline finding, and, as it happens, the only one that strikes a doubtful note.

The interim Irish Sports Monitor report for last year, which looks at the first six months, found that volunteerism, club membership and attendance at events had all declined slightly. This is a more accurate barometer of what is happening – if more than eight out of ten parents were involved in their children's sporting activities then grassroots sport in Ireland would be an incredibly powerful movement.

We will assume that when parents were asked if they help out when their kids are playing sport, a lot of them took the path of least resistance and just said 'yes' because the experience on the ground for most local clubs is that too many parents view them as a babysitting service.

Nevertheless, there are some very interesting findings across a range of areas in this survey on volunteering in Irish sport, particularly in relation to the GAA. For instance, the average GAA volunteer spends between five and six hours per month helping the Association in some way and this excludes any time they may have spent playing.

What is also interesting, however, is that other sports also benefit. There is almost an identikit of the average volunteer as a person with a social conscience and a strong need to enhance their environment in some meaningful way. The type of people who keep this country real are those who take pride in their area in a positive way and have a strong belief in the concept of community. Social conscience manifests itself in many ways in communities, sport is just one of those, but we see it also in things like tidy towns, meals on wheels, residents' associations and so on.

For those interested primarily in sport, or whose children take part in sport, then helping out almost becomes a duty. This explains in part why it is that one in five parents who are directly involved in the GAA are also involved in other sports. And it is also reflected in the fact that there was almost unanimous agreement among parents that sport is important to communities, and that it helps to create a sense of community for many Irish people.

Furthermore, eight out of 10 Irish parents believe sport is important to their family and the three main reasons given for this are that it improves fitness, helps in making friends and is something to enjoy together as a family. A key aim for any sports organisation is to be family-friendly and to have a role for all family members in their activities, so the GAA will be heartened that parents who are involved spend an average of 19 to 20 hours per month as a family taking part in training, matches, helping out and so on, which is slightly ahead of other sports.

We have a good record in this country of trying to promote important community values, which is just as well because many areas have been pretty much left to fend for themselves. When you drive around the country and look at sports facilities, parish halls, community centres and so on it is a vivid reminder of the power of volunteerism. This is what sport is built on.

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Nominations are open until the end of the month for the Volunteers in Sport Awards 2014, run by the Federation of Irish Sport in conjunction with the Irish Sports Council, the Department of Tourism, Transport & Sport and The Community Foundation of Ireland. The awards honour the work of volunteers in Irish sport and aim to encourage more people to get involved. They were first presented in 2007 in order to recognise the estimated 450,000 or volunteers in sport. Previous winners include Liam Sheedy, Oliver O'Neill, youth coach and father of Olympic boxer Darren O'Neill, and Dublin City Marathon organiser Jim Aughney.

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