Making the most of volunteer opportunities - Activfirst
My volunteering journey
My coaching journey began in 2005, the year after finishing university. I was working at a public house, dreaming of getting paid to do a job I love. Although I enjoyed my time working at the public house, it’s not where I saw myself being long-term. I always remember the words my great uncle told me when I was a boy, “get a job you enjoy because you’ll be doing it for a long time”. So, with that in mind, I set about starting my coaching career. Some might say that I foolishly quit my job at the public house which meant no income, but this gave me the motivation and incentive needed to kickstart my long-term career.
After conversations with my brothers, who both worked in sports development at the time, I went down to London and completed two weeks work experience with Ealing Council’s Sports Development department. I volunteered for two weeks at a sports camp, working 8:30am until 5:00pm every day, delivering Multi-Sports camps and I loved every minute of it. This gave me the drive and determination to begin my coaching pathway.
At the time when I was working as a coach in London, my eldest brother Richard worked for the Football Foundation and was working closely with a couple of guys from Chelsea Football Club. Richard mentioned that I was in the city and was keen to get involved in football coaching. Subsequently I received a phone call from the Head of Football in the Community, offering me some volunteer work during May half term. To be honest for a Tottenham fan I did have to think long and hard before saying yes, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like this.
I was so excited about going to work with a professional football club, with the opportunity to shadow two ex-footballers and talk about football all day! That week I spent a couple of days at one of the Football in the Community camps, and I also got a tour of the football stadium. It was the summer that Abramovich bought the club, so there was a great buzz in the atmosphere. I even saw Abramovich get mobbed by a security team! At times I felt as though I was like a rabbit in the headlights with the surroundings, and always had to pinch myself to think I was actually working for a club. I tried to keep the fact I was a Tottenham fan quiet because I knew I’d get so much grief, but it was all good fun! As my weeks work experience came to an end, the Head of Community invited me back again for the summer to deliver on the coaching program, but there was one small problem, I didn’t have my FA Level 1 Coaching qualification. There was no way I was passing up on this opportunity. My dream was about to become a reality and I knew I needed to take full advantage of this.
Upon my return from London, I booked myself on to the next available FA Level 1 Award in Coaching with the East Riding County FA. The course was a two week long program with two full Saturdays and Sundays, along with a safeguarding and first-aid course on two evenings. I remember being so nervous as it came to my turn to deliver my session to the group, knowing that I had to get this Level 1 to get my dream job in London; thankfully I passed!
I went down to London for six weeks coaching at various different locations meeting lots of new people, some of which I’m still in contact with today. One person in particular changed my attitude towards coaching which made me realise that I did in fact possess the potential and I should take this opportunity that was given to me. That man was Errol Bignall, the nicest guy you could ever meet, and also so passionate about the game and helping others. Errol gave me the confidence and belief that I could go on and make an impact with my coaching. At the end of the six weeks coaching at Chelsea I’d learnt so much about the game and also myself. The club offered me part time work to carry on working with them but due to the cost of living down in London I had to turn it down. However, they did agree to keep me on part-time to work in school holidays! I did this for next 18 months I also completed my level two with a club at the Cobham training ground, which was a great experience, seeing the likes of Joe Cole and Frank Lampard train.
In between working with Chelsea, I worked part-time for East Riding council in the sports development team. Whilst working there a couple of the coaches also worked for Leeds United. Not one to miss an opportunity, I began to volunteer every Monday night at Bishop Burton College 6-8pm. After six months one of the coaches had got a new job at Blackburn Rovers which created an opening for myself, I worked for the development centre for three years, working with various age groups for under 6 through to under 12’s. The objective was to get players from the development centre up to the academy at Thorp Arch. What with coaching Grassroots football to then working with the development centre, it was ideal for me as it goes as it gave me an opportunity to work with better players and coaches. After three years work in a development centre, I left to work as a part-time mentor for the FA, this would be going along and offering one-to-one support for grass roots coaches. This could include co-coaching, the mentor observing a session or the coach observing a session delivered by myself, group coaching sessions led by the mentor, observation and support on managing on match-day.
Looking back at where I began my coaching pathway to where I am now, having recently completed my UEFA B coaching license and short stint coaching at Hull City’s academy, I’m proud of how far I’ve come and grateful for the experiences I’ve gained from the football coaching. None of this would have been achieved if I hadn’t volunteered my time all those years ago. Volunteering has given me the confidence and belief to make a career within in the sports industry, but I know I wouldn’t have got where I am today if it wasn’t for the volunteering hours I put in, which I still to today with my nephew’s football team. When interviewing for jobs I’m more likely to give the role to someone who has volunteered because it shows that you can manage your time and complete your tasks. It also shows that you can get along with others and make a commitment.
People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. It offers the chance to give something back to their community. For others it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Regardless of your motivation, what most people find – it is challenging and rewarding.
Some people may say I was lucky to get where I did with my coaching, but I disagree I believe I took advantage of every opportunity made available to me. That’s why I would encourage anyone to volunteer not just within sport but any industry you are interested in as this may be the difference between you being successful in getting a job or not.