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5th November 2019

Volunteer health and wellbeing: giving volunteering a sporting chance

The Scottish Sports Association (SSA) has greatly valued the opportunity through our involvement in the Scottish Volunteering Forum to engage with the latest Volunteer Scotland research on the contribution of volunteering to Scotland's health and wellbeing.

The demonstrable impact in areas including physical and mental health, social isolation and loneliness and community engagement should provide us all with improved tools and evidence to make the case for greater support for volunteer-engaging organisations and for volunteers themselves.

Sport and volunteering are significantly interconnected and consequently this research should be an especially important consideration for those operating in sport in Scotland. Sport is the most popular area in which to volunteer among children and young people and ranks among the most popular for the wider adult population too.

Volunteering in sport provides a win-win situation, as the volunteer gains the physical and mental health benefits, among others, and their involvement in sport provides critical support for more events and programmes for people to take part in, thus in turn also improving the participant’s physical and mental health.

There are plenty of positives to be drawn from the research, such as the fact that sport is significantly above average in its impact and reach within communities with social and economic challenges. This position provides the sector with an opportunity to better understand the contribution of sport and volunteering as vehicles for change and development, and to consider how this could optimised further.

Volunteering and physical activity share many of the same potential benefits for participants: improved mental and physical health, reduction in social isolation and loneliness and improved community integration.

Sustained volunteering involvement is required to see the most significant benefits. Sports clubs are an especially well-suited environment for providing opportunities to get involved on a consistent and sustained basis.

The evidence is clear, so what can be done to ensure that these benefits reach as wide a population as possible, and especially those who could benefit most?

The conclusions of the research are not without challenge. Society and population demographics are changing.

The essential role played by the volunteer workforce in sport, especially considered in conjunction with the Scottish Government’s ambitions around health and wellbeing for the nation, means that the sport and physical activity sector needs to be especially aware of the impact of these changing demographics. The systems and practices need to be in place to ensure that sport and physical activity continues to be a sector that appeals to and looks after its volunteers.

For clubs, governing bodies and event organisers, this research presents an opportunity to review your current practices and make sure that you are doing everything within your power to support your volunteer workforce while preparing for the future.

Use the practitioner guidance to introduce or improve your existing practices, not only to encourage new volunteers to get involved with your organisation, but importantly to better support and guide those you already engage with. This can also provide helpful guidance for governing bodies to utilise to support their member clubs. Good practice in supporting volunteers will aid with retention and development while avoiding burnout, while also ensuring that your volunteers get the physical and mental health benefits that this research has helped to pinpoint.

The research provides a fantastic starting point, but it is how this knowledge is applied and integrated into future policies and practices that will ensure that all people in Scotland have access to positive and impactful volunteering opportunities.

– Gregor Muir, Scottish Sports Association