Grassroots Cycling Needs YOU!
The growth in people taking to their bikes is well documented, this is also reflected in the growth in membership for local clubs and those people taking up racing for the first time, not to mention bike sales and the ever-increasing column space in established and mainstream media. E, 1, 2, 3 and 4th cat road race events haven’t necessarily increased in number, perhaps marginally, and Sportive or challenge rides have reached their peak, though new sportives appear and some disappear, but events and racing for women and Cyclo-cross racer numbers and races seem to be growing.
Is volunteering the ultimate altruistic act? Is giving back to your community something to aspire to? I don’t know, possibly – the statement “Not every act of volunteering is altruistic and not every altruistic act is volunteering”* rings true. For me, anyway, it seems like a logical thing to do where there’s a gap to be filled or the call for help reaches you from a club, a local event or friends putting on an event. The increase in numbers of people getting on a bike is good news and welcomed by most I am sure, but I have noticed, and it beggars belief, that grassroots cycling events and amateur level racing find it so difficult to attract volunteers, especially from clubs whose membership has grown so exponentially in recent years. In addition to that, and something I allude to above in the slow increase in road races, some clubs don’t promote any races at all because of the lack of anyone taking the initiative. Not all cycling clubs are about racing of course, but I am talking specifically about traditional clubs with a history and purpose for road racing or time trialing.
I joined a club many moons ago specifically to race (the less said about my athletic achievements, or lack thereof, the better), to ride with others, improve and develop my skills and to learn from those more experienced than me, AND to give back when the time came, to volunteer my time, to help at races or other events and even to promote and organise events myself that 1. help promote and maintain grassroots cycling, 2. promote the club and sponsors and 3. to be part of wider community bigger than just me. The club/s that I belong to, though small, are thriving and active and their very existence relies on at least one individual taking a leading role (a thankless and sometimes taxing responsibility) and organising, attracting sponsorship, ordering kit, acting as contact and, where there’s an obligation and membership to a local league is dependent on organising races, organising the races as required; all voluntary and in their own time – race organisation is a whole other article.
Twice recently I have learnt that some local races have been at risk of cancellation due to the lack of volunteer help and it makes me despair, especially where some of the clubs in question have had these races in their calendar for months and their membership is in excess of 200+ well-connected individuals – by well-connected I mean recipients of email newsletters, Facebook groups, Twitter etc, etc. This is a fairly typical scenario year after year, and a story familiar to many up and down the county, I have no doubt. I’m not saying you as an individual should feel obliged to help, but what I am saying is that if you benefit from membership of a local club, or you regularly race and take part in events that rely on volunteer support and people giving up their time for you then surely you must feel slightly duty bound to give something of your time in return for that benefit? Actually, that is exactly what I am say, you should feel obliged, you should definitely feel obliged.
I know, I know – people lead busy lives, we all have work and family commitments blah, blah, blah excuses… but you know if it wasn’t for those few, those busy, selfless and truly altruistic few there wouldn’t be any local clubs, any local races or events, any of it… nothing. Then where would you be? You want to race, but look there’s no race calendar. You would like to join a club, but there are no clubs. You’d like to go to a race skills course, but there’s no courses available. Nothing. Do you think this stuff happens as if by magic? I could say more, but you get the general idea I think.
Volunteering makes you feel good about yourself… a nice smug self-satisfied glow that you’ve made the effort and you’ve given that time for the cause of your fellow men and women. To give up just one day a year in the pursuit of your chosen sport feels good, it really does and it reconnects you to the things that are important. The amateur level of sport continues, clubs thrive, people have the chance to test themselves, to keep fit, to hone their skills, to do something other than the daily drudgery of the day job – to do the thing you’ve benefited from all this time. You meet new people, make good friends, people are then more willing to help you…you’ve been a part of something and that something is now a part of you and you didn’t do it for money or any expectation of anything in return, because at this end of the sport there is no money and money should never be the motive anyway.
So, please don’t be coy, don that highly reflective tabbard and grab that big stick with a red flag on it, bake a cake or a flapjack and sell it to grateful riders for 50p a slice, and stand in the road to warn the traffic of an on-coming peloton, or in the rain in a muddy field doing your bit…the sport it needs you, and if you want my opinion (as if you haven’t had enough of that already) amateur sport is the true essence of what sport is all about.
The simple smiles and thank yous from your fellow riders will make it all worth while.
*Altruism and Volunteerism: The perceptions of altruism in four disciplines and their impact on the study of volunteerism – DEBBIE HASKI-LEVENTHAL
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