How To Build A Youth Sports Volunteer Program


There is a multitude of reasons why it is not only necessary but essential for your youth organization to cultivate and maintain a successful volunteer program. For starters, squeezing the most out of your budget is a top priority for any team, large or small. Once you’ve spent funds on experienced coaches, top-notch facilities, and travel, most budgets are tapped. Having volunteers lean in to help with travel, team logistics, meal prep, and equipment distribution is critical. Beyond the to-do lists, however, lies the potential of positively involving parents. As David Robinson noted in our Play Forever podcast series earlier this year, “Parents are a tremendous asset. You just have to know how to manage that asset. It’s sort of like fire. Right? Fire can burn the house down or it can warm the house.”

To learn how to harness that energy to positively impact your program we enlisted the help of Ruth Nicholson, the founder and CEO of GO!. She has over 40 years of experience in the youth sports space and is an internationally-certified professional facilitator with over 25 years in organization development and mediation. Additionally, since launching in 2017, GO! content has reached over 26 sports on four continents. Here are her five steps to building an effective volunteer program.

#1 – Know What You Need

Evaluate your organization, your club or your league and simplify your needs. List out the roles that could potentially be filled with volunteers. This can range from basic roles like trash collection and uniform distribution to player registration and meal prep. It’s important you identify your needs before you ask for help, because a clear action-plan will demonstrate to your volunteers that you value them and their time. For example, team volunteers breakout into three groups:

Set-Up (Uniform Distribution, Player Registration, Team Photos, Team Managers)
Day-To-Day Operations (Schedules, Website Maintenance)
Gameday (Equipment, Live Photo/Video, First Aid, Clean-Up, Pre/Post Meals)

Bucketing volunteers into well-defined categories is a great way to clearly establish the scope of work you need volunteers to solve.

#2 – If You Don’t Ask, They Can’t Say “Yes!”

One thing that can make the “ask” easier is if you write down the job description. For starters, what are the skills and abilities needed for this volunteer role? Once that is established, sketch out what the specific task looks, bearing in mind that if you need more than 10 hours per week, you’re setting a volunteer up for burn out. Finally, don’t forget to add in the supplies and materials needed. Once it’s laid out, the benefit for both the organization and volunteer is well-defined. All of this can lead to a volunteer saying yes.

#3 – Prepare And Train

Make sure that your volunteers have their marching orders. Understanding what the goal is and how to achieve it is critical. It could be written instruction, a demonstration, a verbal refresher, etc. Even the simplest activities, like garbage removal, runs much smoother with clear communication. Where are we getting the garbage bags, are we on foot or taking a golf cart around, where are the dumpsters located and do we need to sort recycling? Glossing over this step can lead to confusion and hurt your retention rates.

#4 – Get Stuff Done!

The first three steps make the fourth step possible. It’s essential to organize and mobilize your volunteers to ensure they have proper leadership and in some cases supervision. This can include having a back-up plan if there are no-shows. Leadership also comes in handy when you’re attempting to prioritize what you need to get done. Finally, a leader can collect feedback from volunteers, an element that is extremely important.

#5 – Say “Thank You!”

This can be the game changer for your organization. If you put together a great volunteer program, you want to keep them coming back. To do that, you need to make sure you are thanking people in a way that resonates with them at a personal level. Some volunteers are well connected and can help your organization gain access to the right resources. In many cases appealing to their ego and verbally affirming and reaffirming that you couldn’t have done it without them is a subtle way to ensure they’ll continue to provide your organization with support. Then you have the volunteers with specific expertise, be it a batting coach or a website manager. Highlighting how their knowledge is invaluable within the organization and thanking them publicly is a great way to give them pride in their work, which leads to a higher sense of satisfaction and by extension a desire to continue their contribution. Finally, you have the caregivers and emotional supporters of them team. Making sure you show the same kind of emotional support to them, will go a long way.

To learn more about the magic behind a robust and sustainable volunteer program, download our webinar with Ruth Nicholson!






This piece was written by a member of the LeagueApps content team.