What you put into it is what you get out of it!

Volunteering veteran Ruth McDonagh tells us why she has volunteered for over 20 years and highlights the importance of volunteers to sporting organisations across the country.

I’m not sure how I initially got into volunteering, though now that I have to think about it, I reckon it came naturally through my passion for sports and events. I am an active hockey player and club member and volunteer and I also work in the Events industry. Funny how it has all worked out now that I do think about it!

Over the past 20 years I have volunteered in a number of capacities for a variety of different clubs, charities and events. My volunteering background is predominantly in hockey, though I do get involved with other events and causes when I have the time or feel I can give something worthwhile. I have been fortunate enough to have volunteered in a variety of different roles including building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Zambia, stewarding at the Today FM Half Mill Half Marathon in Phoenix Park, assisiting with the on-pitch entertainment for the Heineken Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium and the Amlin Challenge Cup Finals in the RDS, helping out as a registration assistant at the Irish Sponsorship Summit in Croke Park, being a Marketing Assistant in the FAI, bag packing in M&S for LauraLynn and this year I was a mentor for the 100minds campaign that raised over €550,000 for the ISPCC Childline. Each of these roles involved different skills and time commitments. Some roles just took up a few hours of my time, others required me to commit to longer timeframes, but importantly I was able to walk away with something that benefited me on a personal level from each of these roles. These benefits would vary from building my CV for college and work, networking with people in the sports or events industries, giving back to the community and building my own self-esteem. As my school principal used to say “what you put into it, is what you get out of it”, and to this day that saying has resonated with me throughout my ‘career’ as a volunteer.

Sports clubs in Ireland, and I am sure around the world, cannot function without volunteers. A volunteer’s role in sports clubs can vary greatly from on-pitch roles such as coaching, team management and umpiring to off-pitch duties on club committees with roles that include general administration, social media and website management, club sponsorship and finance.  I have pretty much done them all at this stage. Over the years I have held a variety of roles within my hockey club, Avoca HC, including Ladies Club Captain, Social Secretary, Coach, Umpire, Clubmark Coordinator, Communications Officer and even Team Captain.

I am not going to lie, being involved in your Club’s committee can be arduous and iriritating, but when you step back and look at what you can achieve as part of a committee over a season, there is a great sense of triumph. Most recently I was part of a small group who organised a Famiy Fun Run to raise money for the club and our charity partners, LauraLynn. We raised over €5000 in total and put on a great event – the sun even came out! In previous years I played a part in our club’s piloting of the Irish Hockey’s Clubmark accreditation process which took nearly two years to get over the line. I have also raised over €8000 for my old hockey club in a Race Night fundraiser, have coached a team to promotion, helped develp young (and old) hockey players’ skills and captained a team to promtion and a cup win. Each and every one of these accomplishments play a huge role in motivating me to stay involved as a volunteer within my club and each for very different reasons.

Over the years my voluntary inolvement in hockey has extended further to Leinster and Irish Hockey. With Irish Hockey I have enjoyed volunteering at the Olympic Qualifiers in the capacity of helping with the sales of merchandise, stewarding and being the PA at matches.  In the past four years I have  also managed a variety of Leinster squads, including the Junior Ladies, the Leinster U18 Girls and most recently the Leinster U17 Girls Development Squad. For the past two Easter weekends I have been fortunate enough to be tasked with travelling to Holland with the Leinster U17s as their manager. This year we placed 3rd in the HOD tournament, a huge achievement considering the calibre of teams that participate in this tournament, including the Belgian National side, South Holland National side and other teams from Germany, Canada and the UK.  Four days away from home, away from work and out of my annual leave is a big ask, but the enjoyment and excitement that is involved in these tournaments is second to none.  Yes, my role as a manager is a glorified bag lady, but I get to travel to Holland, build relationships with some fabulous people including players, coaches and other managers from all over Europe. It is hard work and can involve long hours, managing emotions and disappointment, washing lots of smelly hockey kits but nothing beats watching a squad of players build and develop true friendships, battle and beat their demons on and off the pitch and excel in front of a large European crowd. Nothing can beat that feeling, knowing you have played a part in their achievements.

Volunteering is great fun and can really give you a great sense of worth. However, it is important that if you volunteer for something, that you know what YOU are trying to achieve from it. It is so important that the volunteer gets as much out of volunteering as the organisation. Make sure you stand up and are counted, voice your opinion and get stuck in. It is equally as important that organisations that involve volunteers take the time to brief them appropriately, meet and greet them and most of all, thank them! It is those little things that count and that keep volunteers interested and engaged.

If you want to get in touch with Ruth you can catch her over on Twitter @RuthMcDonagh or connect with her on LinkedIn.

This blog is part of our National Volunteering Week 2016 blog series. Get involved on social media using #NVW2016.

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