The Real Value of Sports Volunteering: Lessons from Empower Active 

Posted on: 9 September 2019

Volunteering and sports are two activities to which students often dedicate a lot of their time at university. In my experience, I have noticed that many of my peers are either known for being ‘athletes’ or ‘activists’ — rarely both. What happens if you wish to spend time helping your local community, but not at the expense of playing your favourite sport? If you are struggling to work out this balance, sports volunteering may be the solution you’ve been waiting for.

Tom Parry, Projects Officer at Bristol Hub, describes himself as “a big advocate for sports-based volunteering. There are clear links between physical activity and improved mental health and many people also attest that volunteering provides a positive impact on mental health. With this in mind, providing volunteering with sports-based activities at the heart of it can only be a good thing for volunteers and beneficiaries alike.” 

Research supports Tom’s points. A study by the Institute for Volunteering Research found a clear link between volunteering in sport and positive changes in well-being. Those who volunteer in sport are considerably more likely to feel that their life has a purpose and a meaning; that they are doing something important; and that they are proud of themselves. They also have higher self-esteem, emotional well-being and resilience; and they are less likely to worry. Volunteers were three and four times more likely to say that they feel it is important to be part of their community and that they trust others in their community, respectively. 

Empower Active is a project that runs across a number of our local Hubs. In Bristol, volunteers pair up with Year 8 students and use sports to help increase their confidence, self-esteem, and future aspirations. Southampton runs the programme similarly, but for a range of secondary school students. In Oxford, volunteers go into schools to deliver fun and engaging P.E lessons, giving young people the opportunity to access new opportunities with the support of university student and local residents.

Tom describes Empower Active as “really beneficial for both our student volunteers and the beneficiaries. The sporting activities helped create a more relaxed environment, which helped foster deeper relationships between the volunteers and the young people.” At Bristol Hub, the young people “all really looked forward to the sports-based sessions, which helped to improve their engagement with classroom-based sessions.” 

Angus and Molly have volunteered with Empower Active at Bristol Hub. Both recall that witnessing the development of the young people’s character was impressive. Molly initially found that being the only girl on the project, “a group of boys especially were quite shy: if I asked them questions, they would look at the floor and wouldn’t interact with me. Whereas by the end of the six weeks, a lot of them we coming up to me and starting conversations.” 

Interestingly, Angus found that, although the purpose of Empower Active was to help young people grow in confidence, he realised his confidence grew at the same time. Similarly, despite being “equally as nervous as the Year 8 boys” at the beginning, Molly believes she is now able to “go into a different age group and be confident from the get go” — it no longer takes her a while to “settle into it.”

Angus further attests to the positive impact of sports volunteering on mental health and well-being: “It does give that kind of ‘buzz’ for the rest of the day — the sport, getting up and doing stuff, does kind of keep you on that level all day.”

Ultimately, sports volunteering offers a fantastic opportunity to intertwine your passion for social action and your interest in sports. If you’re able to volunteer with Empower Active at your local Hub, why not give it a go? If not, look into volunteering opportunities with local sport clubs, organisations or sporting events. Find more information here.

Marina Zorila

Marina is our Social Impact Digital Marketing Intern for the summer. She started her social action journey by getting involved with charity societies at the University of Warwick.

Tags: Impact, Social Action

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