The first story in our Siren Summer Series comes from Georgia Rajic who writes a love letter to volunteers and what it takes to thrive in community sport.
By Georgia Rajic
This is a love letter to the things we have to do to enjoy the things we love.
As much as some people may think that playing community sport is as simple as rocking up at a certain time, playing a game and leaving feeling energised by victory or dismayed by defeat, there are infinite layers of work and hours of administration that occur to facilitate these experiences.
Of course, there are the things the average community sport enthusiast would see, like the people at the face of the process. They are the team managers, officials and the canteen workers. And sometimes you might see a small glimmer into the process itself – the many messages in the group chat with times, locations, and opposition information.
But that’s just a tiny part of what the community sporting public see.
Mostly, community sport is the nebulous, yet vital work which isn’t always acknowledged.
There is always that one person in the team who organises the bibs, sends out the weekly fixtures and checks extensively if you’re really in or not. There are those that spend endless hours making calculations regarding payment—what’s the fair way to split amongst a team? Should fill-ins pay? How do we make sure the same five people aren’t paying more than the legion of committed fill-ins?
Making sure that the sport is still accessible and affordable to those who want to play—even in a cost-of-living crisis, is a huge challenge. The seasonal message of:
hi everyone, I’ve paid the fees for the seasons can you please pay me back as soon as you can.
In more organised team sports and clubs, the crux is navigating administrative systems. Some are purpose built for the sport of your choice and others seemingly purpose built by someone who has never played the sport. It’s then (consequently) dealing with messages from players saying that links aren’t working, passwords aren’t resetting and the age-ode message of:
I’m sorry, I just don’t know what I’m meant to do here?” or the “hey, do you know what my username is?
It’s conversing with your member organisation about your stock-standard player registrations and player transfers and then your international transfers and complex registrations. Building a rapport with the administrators of your local competition or state body through endless emails and calls. Trying to figure out how to organise a fill in for a sport that requires a $300 registration for all players—”well, so-and-so isn’t playing this week – maybe we just mark the fill-in down as them so we don’t have to forfeit?”
Then we arrive at the whole conundrum that is uniforms.
Telling your players the specific by-laws of the competition is a minefield.
“well yes, this competition allows singlets but no it doesn’t allow braids or bobby-pins”.
“No pockets, no zips, no gloves.”
“Please for the love of god do not wear a crop top (we’ve already been told off twice) and always wear shorts if you’re wearing a skirt.”
“Have you removed your earrings?”
“Have you taped your nails?”
“I think you can get away with it if you bend your fingers back enough. I’ve got tape, do you need tape?”
“Their colours are the same as ours, should we get different coloured bibs?”
For some sports, there’s a longer lead up time and more strict rules. It’s checking the opposition’s Instagram page in the lead up to an away game. The sigh of relief that their club colours are significantly different to your own. And then the panicked stream of messages right before kick-off:
“can someone’s partner please run to Rebel Sport and buy 15 pairs of socks that aren’t black otherwise we can’t play.”
But that’s for the teams that are established. How about before that? Where everyone needs to be sorted and graded. Spending hours upon hours, grading players and then sitting around spreadsheets and cold pizza, rewatching footage and trying to make out the numbers on someone’s calf before being calling yourselves the matchmakers of the century for putting everyone in a team. Cross checking and double-checking positions and combinations and preferred nights and locations. Sending out congratulatory emails with information and uniforms and prices before getting that dreaded email back—“Oh I’m sorry, I wanted to play with my friend. How come we’re not in the same team?”
Hours of stress, little or no payment and more time spent at sporting grounds than with loved ones at home. Undisclosed amounts of canteen chips. The resigned sigh of “oh, I’ll just buy it and then the club can pay me back.”
And then never actually getting paid back…
The last minute messages of “I’m so sorry I can’t play tonight, I’m not feeling the best” and then looking at the laundry list of potential fill-ins stored in your Notes app to find someone who can play. Getting someone to fill in at the absolute last minute. Then after the anxiety of it all, seeing an Instagram Story of the eleventh hour drop out at dinner with friends.
Is it worth it?
You see members of your club build lifelong friendships.
You see the joy and ecstasy of winning. The team who nearly went a whole season without any success, and the teams that win the trophies and medals or towels or socks or tote bags.
It’s watching people fall in love with the game again after a period of time away. People returning from injury and taking that first drive, intercept, kick, goal. Celebrating like you’ve won the World Cup when you’ve won a 9:30pm game on a Monday night and the other team looks at you like you’ve lost the plot.
It’s seeing your friends every week. Learning the intricate details of people’s lives that you’re only privy to with consistent, frequent interaction. The layers of inside jokes and nicknames and stories.
Is it all worth it?
Georgia Rajic is a football and netball commentator. She joined her first club committee at aged 16 and has been involved in sport admin ever since (despite her best efforts in stepping down).