Eddie Izzard: Volunteering is good for everyone

Comedian and actor Eddie Izzard is Join In’s patron. In 2009, volunteers supported him in running 43 marathons in 51 days in aid of Sport Relief, and he became the official cheerleader of the Games Makers at London 2012.

Volunteers are the backbone of sport in the UK – without them, sport just wouldn’t be possible. Behind every sporting champion or grassroots sports club is an army of volunteers who have dedicated their time and efforts to sport.

Every Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports star started out at a local sports club or group. Any one of them will tell you how important volunteers are, and the vital role that they’ve played in their career.

The power of goodwill in sport

An unsung hero might be anyone: from an enthusiastic parent driving a team to training to a passionate neighbour who makes the tea and sandwiches for hungry players; from supportive spectators to a dedicated coach who gives their time each week.

According to Join In research, people who volunteer in sport agree they have 10% higher self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience

London 2012 shone a light on these fantastic volunteers. Games Makers helped to create an outstanding atmosphere and showed us the power of human spirit and goodwill in sport.

I was lucky enough to be involved in a small way in the recruitment and training of the Games Makers. I’m thrilled to see that the awareness of and enthusiasm for volunteering continues to grow in the UK, this year with the Commonwealth Games Clyde-siders and Tour Makers from the Tour de France Grand Départ.

Keeping the volunteering spirit alive

But this is just touching the surface. Seven out of 10 grassroots sports clubs still need more volunteers.

Given that each volunteer creates the capacity for at least 8.5 more participants in sport (yes, eight and a half people!), it’s vital that we keep the volunteering spirit alive.

One volunteer creates the capacity for 8.5 new club members or participants.

When I was running around the UK, in my haphazard fashion, I saw this spirit every day. From the outside, running looks like an individual sport but you could not survive without the team you’re a part of.

Your team are the ones that sort you out mentally and physically at the end of every marathon and the start of every day. They share the highs and lows with you.

But it wasn’t just the experienced advisers, coach, sports therapist and tour manager who were part of this team, it was also the people of Britain, and the volunteers who took time out to support me.

Bringing people together

Volunteering helps to boost communities because people who volunteer in sport feel closer to their communities. They feel that they can trust their communities and that they have an impact on what that community is like.

I’ve seen it first-hand; people from different backgrounds, ages and areas, coming together for a cause they feel strongly about.

Feelings of having put time and effort into the community were significantly higher among those who volunteered in sport

Next year will be another fantastic year of sport for us – the Rugby World Cup, Euro Hockey championships, UK Athletics Gold Series and IPC Swimming World Championships are all taking place on home ground.

The enthusiasm and spirit of volunteers will help make these events a huge success. As after London 2012, we need to capitalise on this to drive more volunteers into community sport and grassroots clubs.

Volunteering options are endless

Clubs need help and there are roles for everyone; if you are heroic enough to run around in the cold with a whistle on a Saturday morning, you can coach.

If you’re not quite so brave, you can help with social media, or make the tea, paint the clubhouse, collect members’ subs – the options are endless.

People volunteer because they want to help and when they do they usually find they enjoy it – so I would urge everyone to give it a go. Head to your local club and ask if they need help, or search the Join In website. It’s as simple as that.

– Search volunteering opportunities in your local area, or learn how Join In can help your club find volunteers.

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