Better Organized Volunteers = MORE FUN
I can’t think of another sport as reliant on voluntary parent participation as summer swimming. Summer swim teams couldn’t function without a handful of dedicated neighborhood parents. Here I’m talking about the head parents, willing to put in hours outside of the season to make sure all the decisions are made, coaches hired, equipment stocked, and systems put in place for a great summer. But you can’t pull off a good summer swim meet unless the entire army of team parents are mobilized and the workload distributed! Great volunteer management is essential.
The most “successful” summer swim teams have the most parent participation – and when I define “success” in terms of summer swimming what I really mean is “fun.” I’m not talking about the teams that score the most points, I’m talking about the teams where everyone is pulling together and enjoying the experience, enjoying meet days, and enjoying their kids’ swimming. When teams successfully encourage parent participation, and everyone shares the workload, meets run more smoothly, everyone is more relaxed, and everyone enjoys the season more.
If your swim meets are chaotic, run over time, involve a lot of pleading and cajoling to get parents to help, and you only ever see the same people stepping up each week, it could be time for an overhaul or your team’s volunteer management practices. It’s time to create a culture of volunteerism!
1) Do Your Research, Create a Plan
How much time from EACH family do you need throughout the season to ensure the work at swim meets is evenly distributed? Teams approach these calculations in different ways: you can look at number of meets, hours, or shifts that are necessary from each family. If you run concessions and need donations, factor those into the equation as well. If you’ve been using SwimTopia for a season or more already, you should have some good data about what you did last year that can help with your deliberations. SwimTopia has a “points” system that helps you track and reward time spent volunteering. You can allocate points on a flat scale, 1 per shift, or you can create a weighted scale that offers more points for jobs that are less popular, to try to encourage more folks to sign up for those jobs (come on, we all know that running ready bench is harder than handing out water bottles!). Once you’ve considered all the jobs that are needed throughout the season, and how many families you expect to have to fill those positions, you can create a “minimum volunteer requirement” and set a number of points, meets, or shifts that is expected of each family. Which brings me to number 2).
2) Set Expectations
Setting realistic expectations in advance about what’s really involved when someone signs their kiddo up for summer swim team is a key step to success. Make sure you state front-and-center on your website that parents will be expected to volunteer at meets. Summer swimming is a “family” sport – yes, the kids are the ones going to practice and putting in the hard work in the pool, but parents need to be ready to put in some work too! If any folks are turned off by your volunteer requirements – don’t worry! It means they’re probably not a good fit for your summer swim team anyway 😀. Consider adding a required “Acknowledgement Section” to your registration form for parents to initial that talks about the volunteer commitment expected by the team. Sure, SwimTopia’s electronic signatures are legally binding, but don’t worry, we’re not advocating that you take anyone to court if they fall short! What you’re really doing here is ensuring that people know what they’re getting themselves into, and you’re getting their buy-in up front.
Some teams include mention of penalties that families will incur if they don’t meet their minimum volunteer requirement. It’s possible to collect a “conditional fee” through SwimTopia registration forms (i.e. a fee that is only collected if a certain condition is or is not met). If families don’t meet their minimum volunteer requirement, team admins can collect the conditional fee after the season. Most teams that use fees and penalties find that they rarely need to charge families after the season; it’s just another reminder to parents that your team takes “this volunteering thing” seriously! If you’re going to set a penalty, make sure it’s high enough to be prohibitive. Some parents would rather pay $75 than work 30 hours at swim meets, but they might think twice about being fined $200!
Example: Parent Policies (specifically numbers 6, 7, & 8)
3) Arm Them with Information
Your SwimTopia website is a valuable tool for sharing information, don’t be shy about using it. Do you remember your first year on swim team? Did you have any idea what other swim parents were talking about? What is a heat sheet or a ready bench anyway?? Create a webpage that describes all your team’s swim meet volunteer positions to give the newbies an idea of what they’re getting themselves into. I have seen these creatively written such that they point out the fun aspects of the jobs, the benefits (e.g. good view of the pool and some shade when you’re a timer), and even the personality traits it’s good to have if you’re going to be good at the job (patient, organized, and lighthearted if you don’t want to scare the kids at ready bench). Have fun with it! You may be thinking “people don’t read” (and you’d largely be right), but you’re at word 894 of this blog, so some people do! SwimTopia allows you to enter a job description for each volunteer position, giving parents additional information as they sign up to volunteer at each meet. It’s also helpful to outline all your head positions, for meets and for the team, so parents can be looking to the future and thinking about how they might get more involved once they gain more experience.
4) Set Them Up for Success
Think back to your first meet as a swim parent, did you have a clue what you were doing in your volunteer position? If you did, you’re one of the lucky ones! Help your parents feel more comfortable and confident by having your head volunteers compose an informational email to their volunteer team the night before with instructions on what to expect, where to meet, what to bring (e.g. clipboard). On my team, the Head Timer, Head Set Up, Head of Ready Bench, and Head Age Group Parent (a.k.a Tent Parent/Kid Wrangler/Bull Pen Manager) all send these kinds of emails the night before the meet. SwimTopia has tools to help your head volunteers easily email to the volunteers signed up for each position
5) Reward and Acknowledge
To successfully create a culture of volunteerism on your team, it’s important to give a little shout out to the people you see going above and beyond. By acknowledging those that go the extra mile, you’re showing your team that you care and appreciate everyone’s hard work, and you’re reminding people what it is that makes your team special. Parents don’t expect to be rewarded when they volunteer, but it’s a nice bonus to be acknowledged amongst your peers. Our team is able to secure small gift cards from either the companies that some team parents work for, or from sponsors, to compliment a shout-out from our Volunteer Coordinators via email and on our website. We award Volunteers of the Week for special contributions, but also acknowledge our hardest workers at our End of Season Banquet, where parents get a chance to vie for the “High Point” Award 😀.
Example: Volunteers of the Week
We hope you’ve found this blog on volunteer management helpful! Stay tuned for next week’s companion piece that covers different ways to manage volunteer signups!
About the Author:
Elli Overton is SwimTopia’s Director of Sales & Marketing. Elli was Head Coach of the Circle C Seals for 4 years, then transitioned to being Meet Director for 2 years, and Merchandise Coordinator for 1 year. In her sales role with SwimTopia, Elli has been hearing stories of how teams from all over the country are run differently for the last 6 years.