When checking the mileage on my car the other week and then checking what it was back in January, I couldn’t believe that I’d done over 9,000 miles. So, I thought it was quite apt that I was writing a blog about volunteering and looking at all the weekends I’d been away and then calculating that I’d done around 2,200 miles driving to swimming galas this year alone. 2,200 miles!!! That’s nearly 25% of my mileage for travelling to galas in Kendal (twice), Burnley, Sunderland (twice), Liverpool (3 times in 6 weeks!), Workington, Wigan (twice, cheating, it was on a coach but relevant to time away from home) and Sheffield. I don’t even want to think about how much that has cost in diesel, or hotels, or food out. I’ve also worked out that by the end of November, I will have been away for around 20% of the weekends this year, as well as some Friday nights and also a few single Saturdays and Sundays. That’s a lot of weekends to be away from home.

So, why do I do it? The easy answer is, because my 12 and 15 year-old girls compete so I go with them. However, there is more to it than that. I could just sit on the balcony and watch them for the weekend and then take them home or back to the hotel etc but I choose not to. I chose to volunteer. This means usually helping out on the poolside (extremely hot and sweaty and uncomfortable poolsides, I might add) at galas.

As an ex-County swimmer in my youth (I even found my name on a couple of County Trophies recently, going back to 1988 I think it was, my girls didn’t believe me until they saw my name on them), I did a lot of coaching at various levels at the local swimming club before Covid hit, spending probably 6 or 7 hours a week at the pool, maybe more some weeks, and sometimes coaching my own girls. For any coach who is also a parent, this absolutely sucks as they look at you in parent mode and either don’t listen or don’t believe you know what you are talking about. But, since returning to the pool after Covid, I have had to take a step back from coaching due to time constraints so I have been helping out in other ways, on the poolside at galas. I love being able to talk to the swimmers I’m looking after, sometimes being able to calm their nerves if they are attending their first Regional competition (for Regional competition, read ‘really important and highish level competition for 11-16ish year olds’). As a side note, trying to calm nerves doesn’t work if you are a parent as well, as again, they don’t believe anything you have to say! As a learning note, leave your own children for another coach on the poolside to deal with, they are more likely to listen to them I also like checking the swimmers’ times, doing their splits (although that’s absolutely nerve-wracking when the stopwatch isn’t playing ball and all eyes are on you for the swimmers’ times, you are then not their favourite person if you miss their split) and giving them little bits of advice if I can to make their next swim even better and making sure they are where they need to be and don’t miss their races (there is always one child who is in a world of their own and misses something, even with your best endeavours)!

My parents did the same for my brother and I, travelling around the country and further afield for many years, taking us to swimming, football and netball events but could only be present as parents and spectators, so being able to give something back to a local club is very important to me, no matter the cliché here. Without volunteers, local clubs would not and could not exist. Sometime I wish aggro parents would consider this before launching into a tirade about how unhappy they are about their child’s achievements (or lack of) or training and often laying the blame at your door. We definitely don’t do it for the thanks, but for a sense of achievement, I think. To be able to watch swimmers progress through their squads, from Diddy League (the first real team gala for many younger swimmers), to competing at Regionals and Nationals and for their County, is amazing; you get that wonderful, proud feeling, knowing you helped foster their talent just a little tiny bit. Even just seeing their times improve or the effort they put into training is fulfilling.

A few months ago, at one of the galas, I was asked by a couple of swimmers when I was coming back to coach them as they really missed me (and it was a few years since I had coached them!). I got quite emotional, I hadn’t realised I had even made the slightest impact on them, but clearly had.

By helping out at local clubs, we can help children feel valued, feel good about themselves for taking part and for achieving something and we can also foster talent. We now have a brand spanking new pool (not quite the 50m pool we were promised, but it’s a huge improvement on the old one) which hopefully will attract more children to come and join our Club at Carlisle Aquatics.

This is why I volunteer; achievement works both ways.

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