We Need More Volunteers

By David

“We need three more timekeepers before we can start the meet.” In the world of competitive swimming you hear that announcement all the time. Without a huge army of volunteers the sport would quickly grind to a halt. I’ve become more aware of the role volunteers play since returning to New Zealand. In my Florida team paid staff performed many of the tasks volunteers handle in New Zealand. Invoicing training fees and preparing meet entries are two time consuming examples. I hate to think what Florida’s County bureaucrats would have made of a parent preparing the monthly pool invoice or collecting training fees. The beginnings of a Bernie Madoff incident would have been suspected and a dawn raid planned to deal with the scam. Don’t laugh, they thought dawn raids were entirely rational behavior. America sends the world a message of slick efficiency but some of the worst bureaucratic jungles exist in that country and it’s getting worse.

That’s not to say US Swimming doesn’t benefit from the work of thousands of volunteers. In 2009 there were 29,557 non athlete members registered to US Swimming. Of these 2,129 were full time coaches; Florida had 140. That still leaves 28,000 other non athlete members helping run the sport in the United States. In addition there are thousands of others who work at meets but are not registered with the national association. Some of them are real hard workers. I knew a lady in Florida who was the mother of a Florida State High School 100 freestyle champion. She was an amazing worker. She updated the team’s notice board, ran the hospitality service for each swim meet, recruited the officials necessary to run local meets, organized the team Christmas party and spent hours standing on the pool deck, in the Florida sun, inspecting starts and turns. Best of all she did it in a good spirit; happy to be part of things working well. Another exceptional volunteer in America was an attorney who was on the Club’s Board. I would think he provided the team and me with about an average of two hours of his time every week for five years. The normal charge out rate for a senior attorney in the United States is $350 an hour. In five years that’s $182,000 of free advice. He insisted on paying his full swimming training fees as well. Yes, there are some very good people out there.

Good volunteers in New Zealand are no different. We have four grafters I must tell you about. First of all there is the team handicapper. “What on earth is that?” I hear every United States reader ask. Well, in New Zealand, the person who processes the team’s racing results and meet entries is called a Handicapper. I suspect the origin of the name dates back to when many swimming races in New Zealand were handicapped with some swimmers starting at go while the faster swimmers waited for a predetermined delay before they could swim. The delays were calculated by the team’s Handicapper – hence the name. Handicap races don’t exist any longer but the name lives on. Our team handicapper has been doing the job for the Club since forever and she’s very good at it. And it’s not an easy job. Somebody is always late with their entry; someone else wants to change the 400 IM to the 50 Free one day after the entry’s closing date. It’s a nightmare. Since I’ve been back in New Zealand the team has entered six meets. Two days before each meet I’ve been presented with a printout of the entries – no stress, no drama, just a real good volunteer.

The second of our team’s four grafters looks after the team’s correspondence, updates the notice board and distributes information to members via email. It is all important and all done well. The one I like best though is the Notice Board. There’s nothing worse than having an out-of-date Notice Board. No one is interested in reading the training timetable changes from 2008. Worse are those faded newspaper cuttings and team lists so old that the paper is cracked and curled. It makes the Club look bad. If the Notice Board is a shambles what else isn’t being done right. Well we don’t have that problem. From a coach’s point of view, our Notice Boards are so good I don’t bother remembering half the things I should anymore. Someone asks me something I just point to the Notice Board; it’s all there.

The last two grafters come as a pair. They do the office stuff; invoice the team’s training fees, prepare monthly and annual accounts, apply for grants, pay invoices and pay the coach’s wages: best to keep in good with them. If it’s the team’s money, they’ve got it counted. They work early every morning while the team is at practice. In spite of the hour they seem happy enough. I occasionally call in to make a cup of coffee and it’s like a good British comedy in there; stories, laughs and good hearted banter. I won’t be able to tell this story nearly as well as it was told to me but two days ago one of the grafters had a disaster at home; her washing machine broke down. The wretched thing wouldn’t drain properly. In fact it had been getting worse for a couple of months. Finally a plumber was called. He searched and searched and finally he found a pair of our grafter’s panties – in New Zealand they are called knickers – stuck in the drainage pipe. “I was so embarrassed.” she said, “I wondered where they’d gone.”

So there you have it, good volunteers not only keep the place going they provide entertainment as well.