Many youth sports organizations are volunteer-driven non-profits. This serves two purposes. Utilizing volunteers keeps prices down and engaged parents become strong advocates for the organization. During the football season parents roll up their sleeves working the gate, manning the concession stand, preparing the field, cleaning up trash and many more glamorous jobs. Why? Because they are passionate about the success of their child and the organization!
As wonderful as these willing volunteers are, they can also be most difficult to manage and lead. Well intended volunteers don’t always do exactly as the team leadership wants and frankly they don’t have too. They are, after all, volunteers! This can lead to conflicts.
When conflicts arise, it is easy for the team leadership to focus on what the volunteer did wrong. They didn’t follow policy or protocol. Forgetting they are dealing with a volunteer crew, leadership may seek to solve the problem quickly and treat the volunteer as they might an employee who broke a secret rule.
The results: that well-intentioned volunteer can move from being an advocate to a person who feels devalued. The problem compounds because youth sports have parent-volunteers who have developed close bonds with each other. A ripple effect can perpetuate the conflict as parents rally around to support each other. Feelings get hurt, families leave and the organization has a growing void.
Conflicts will arise in volunteer-driven organizations – that’s a given. What is critical is how these conflicts are managed. Before any action is taken by the leadership a core question must be answered. “How much of the conflict does the leadership own?” In most cases there is responsibility on both sides. Once leadership accepts ownership of their part of the conflict they can more forward with a solution.
By following Stephen Covey’s mantra, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” in most cases they can find a solution that will allow the well-intentioned volunteer to remain an engaged advocate erasing the void that started to form.
In youth sports, children are asked to be leaders on the field. Leadership always needs to start at the top, or in this case, on the sidelines and in the boardroom.
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