I’m a volunteer—have been one since coaching my first little league soccer team when I was sixteen. I’ve given selflessly to kids for over half of my life as a coach, girl scout leader and cheerleading sponsor because I know for almost any activity a kid is dying to participate in, there’s a huge shortage of adults willing to sit through a couple hours of campfire songs, paper mache crafts, half-time choreography, or dribbling practice every week. Afterall, we have other priorities like jobs, families to feed and other crap of our own to do on any given day. I get it.
For the most part, my volunteer experience has been positive: the kind of warm fuzzy-inducing stuff that makes all those scout meetings and practices worth it. The light in a pair of eager eyes when a child learns that even they can make a difference, high-fives from sweaty little palms, being considered “pretty cool for somebody so old”. A little girl on one of my 8 and under soccer teams once gave me a trio of children’s books about a horse before practice for no other reason than she thought I was a “freaking awesome coach.”
Every now and then there’s the bad apple that makes me question my commitment to community after I’ve silently counted to ten instead of wringing their little neck. The brownie who told my daughter that she was pretty sure I was going straight to hell because of the sunshine tattoo on my back that I carelessly let shine during a troop meeting or the Junior B cheerleader who spewed an impossibly large mouthful of Gatorade onto the top of my head at a game because she “like couldn’t help it. _____ made me laugh!”
Even the parents of these little beasties get to me sometimes. I can usually tell at our first meeting who my troublemakers will likely be. The mom who introduces her son: “This is Little Johnny. I just need to tell you that Little Johnny is THE BEST player in the league. I mean, he’s so good that coaches from the teams we played last year wanted him benched so that other kids could have a turn. You’re going to make sure that Little Johnny gets to play as much as possible, right? ‘Cause we want to win! Ain’t that right, Johnny?” Or the dad who says after shaking my hand for the first time: “So, how much experience do you have? I mean, my kid got pretty good last season and I just want to make sure she’s on the best team. ‘Cause we want to win!” Any parent who uses the word “win” within the first fifteen minutes of meeting me is going to be trouble 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter that Little Johnny plays in an age division that doesn’t even use a goalie, where any snot box kicking a ball should be capable of scoring a goal or that Dear Ole Dad is operating under the fantasy that little league coaches are scouted and contracted based on their records and not some Mom or Dad extorted to coach or else their own kid isn’t going to be able to play due to a coaching shortage.
In a perfect world the Volunteer—especially the Youth Organization Volunteer—would be worshiped and revered. We’d walk with petals thrown at our feet in appreciation for all the campouts we’ve endured with 23 squealing tween girls. Doors would open before us in gratitude for all the ADHD rugrats we managed to keep on a fifty foot rectangle for 45 minutes three times a week. Jewels and crowns would be presented to us as recompense for all the parents we didn’t karate chop in the throat after some asinine statement about “winning”. In a perfect world there’d be more of us to go around—more men and women who, when asked to take a troop, team or squad, said “Okay—I’ll do it. They can count on me. Sure I’ll never be caught up on my laundry, sit down for a meal away from the ball field until Thanksgiving or even have the energy to shave my legs, but I’m in!” More of us to share the load would insure that those of us who’ve made the lifetime commitment to volunteerism don’t get burned out…or go to jail for assault.