Why you should consider volunteering in sport

By Zarina Bahdur - 
Volunteering and interning are under-rated entry points into the industry.

As mentioned in my previous article, the idea of sport is appealing to many because of the glitz, the glamour, the money, and the idealized version of what it means to be involved in the industry. 
Not knowing what to expect, which areas you would be suitable for (or would be suitable for you) can be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if you are a child starting to look for that career path or the 50-year-old looking for a change or someone just looking for a little extra to do after a typical 8:00 AM- 5 PM five days a week job.  
In these cases, DO NOT underestimate what can be learned and achieved through volunteering and interning. I spent two glorious months as a volunteer during the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup in South Africa. What people don’t know is that it was those two months that made a world of difference in directing my passions, teaching new skills, and broadening my network both in South Africa and abroad. 
I also picked up some new skills working on local community projects. It can and will be the same for you. In many ways, it is interning and volunteering that will give insights into the industry, specific job roles, and your own skill sets and interests. By taking on these roles, it allows you to move from department to department if you feel a little lost in direction. It gives holistic views into specific roles that you may be interested in and introduce you to parts of the business that you never knew about. 
Don’t underestimate what can be learned by volunteering and interning for your local sports club either. It is in those places where you really experience every aspect of a role. You can be the logistics and sponsorship manager, kit person, driver, and cook all in one. This is one of the most valuable spots where a young entrepreneur comes to life. He/She sees the problems and aims to fix them. Sometimes successfully and most times not so much.  The failures, in the long run, don’t matter, in fact, they are your greatest blessing and achievement. This is where you learn, pivot, and new solutions are formed.
Going into an intern/ volunteer relationship with a professional organization is exciting but also requires realistic expectations. One should not enter this agreement without discussing the terms and conditions. One should not expect to be hired when the company has made it clear that there are no roles at that point in time. If this is indeed your goal, there are two options: a) grab the opportunity and learn as much as you can from it or b) look for something which does guarantee job placement at the end. Option B are few and far between especially when there are multiple people going for the same roles.
One should also communicate in advance regarding roles and tasks. In today’s day and age, most organizations at the professional sports level are deemed to be professional and yet many operate as though they are what we call in South Africa ‘spaza’ shops. This means they run like a small little tuck shop with no professional structures in place. In these cases, you should be self-aware.  You must know your limits on time, the resources at your disposal and your own skills. If a coach decides you should play medical team during a match and you can’t stand the sight of blood and know nothing about injuries, it is definitely not the right task for you.  You should know when to push yourself and when to say no. One in intern and volunteer positions in these businesses can easily be exploited if circumstances allow. This can be detrimental to your self-confidence and the work output. 
Even as a seasoned pro, working in the industry, there are moments where being a volunteer really helps. Every single one of us goes through that low patch. As much as we don’t show that on social media it is an inevitable ebb that will hit and at times it hits a bit harder and a few more times than we like and/or expect. Volunteering can be one of the most enlightening opportunities, be it volunteering at a youth sports agency or your own organization in a different role. It is these moments that can be used to reconnect with your job, get some much-needed rejuvenation with the sport and passion for it and what can really mean for you as an individual. 
It may be that you have volunteered, but you did not gain what you had hoped for in terms of experience. In this case, evaluate. Have you set too high of an expectation for the role? Did you have a mentor that was suited for the role or was unable to commit due to their own stresses, workload, etc? Did you communicate your aims and goals with your superior ahead of time and during the process? Did you even set aims and goals to start off with? Did you and your superior have clash in personality (this is a lesson in itself- conflict resolution and working with people who don’t fit your ideal)?
Irrespective of the answers, don’t shut the door on one or two, or even ten negative experiences. Instead, keep trying, identify the problems from an honest perspective, determine solutions, ask for help where necessary and then try again. 

Volunteering may be a non-paid role and for that reason, it may feel unimportant and you may not take it seriously. I strongly recommend that you take it as seriously as you would a ‘real' job. It can open doors, it means learning new skills, connecting with new opportunities and shows your character. So volunteer, intern, learn and welcome to yourself to the sports industry.

- Zarina Bahdur is Head of Operations at Goal Africa and FIFA Master alumna.