Let me set the scene: it’s a depressingly cold, windy Saturday morning in rural Ireland with rain beating down. Here I am, a smaller than average, eight year old girl chasing a football around a pitch (or a dirty field with some rusty goalposts if you will) surrounded by around 25 boys of a similar age. Despite the setting, I was absolutely hooked. I absolutely loved sport and have done so ever since.
Fast forward almost two decades and sport is still a major player within my life. My education, career and social life have all been defined by it and I’m well aware of the huge benefits that participating in sport can bring. It’s not just about the obvious physical and mental benefits; sport can play a much larger role within the local community when the energy and passion is harnessed correctly. However, from working so closely within sport all my life, I’m also equally aware of the stresses and strains placed on sports clubs across the country. We all know the people; the champions that have worked tirelessly in the shadows year after year to ensure their club, team or organisation can keep ticking over.
Ultimately, I suppose these two contrasting things; the benefits and burdens of sport, led me to volunteer for Sported. I was previously aware of the work that the organisation did through my day-to-day job in sport development and the chance to relieve even the tiniest amount of pressure on the tireless volunteers at the coalface of sport was a great attraction for me personally. In short, if I could help provide just one person with the chance to experience some of the countless benefits I’ve received from being involved with sport throughout my life, my volunteer experience would be worth it.
My light bulb moment came one September night when, like almost everyone else, I was scrolling through Twitter and just happened to see a post from Sported looking for volunteers. I suppose the guilt of sitting on the couch as opposed to doing something productive took over and I sent off an application form immediately.
My volunteer career with Sported thus far is still fledgling. I’ve been involved on one project helping member groups better understand first hand the impact that they are having within their local communities. The project has been hugely enlightening for both me personally and the member group I’ve had the chance with. The group had a huge influence both within their local and wider community. They were essentially describing themselves as a soccer club yet offered so much more; mental health awareness, employment opportunities, training opportunities, wider sporting participation opportunities, the list goes on. Through working with the group first hand, they’ve been able to produce an action plan that will shape their strategic direction going forward and allow them to create further opportunities, better evidence their impact and positively touch the lives of even more people locally and further afield. While there’s no guarantee that this action plan will directly lead to better and more opportunities within the sport, it has allowed the group a chance to think about their strategy moving forward and also to demonstrate the wider impact of their work to funders.
In this short video, Eilish and some of the beneficiaries of the ‘Understanding the Impact of Social Change through Sport’ discuss the programme’s impact.
Personally, the project has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. To get to work with a soccer foundation to become more sustainable has essentially brought my journey full circle. We all know the demands of life today, there are a million and one distractions and commitments within our lives. However, I will definitely say that whatever you offer in terms of volunteering; be it one hour a week or one hour a year, you will get back ten-fold. To be able to be part of a project that benefits the lives of so many has been a truly wonderful experience for me personally and I can’t wait to get involved with more groups.
If you’re thinking about getting involved, do it and if you’re not thinking about getting involved, do it!
Sported has flexible volunteering opportunities across the UK. For more details and to sign-up, please click here.