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Volunteering: the life blood of hockey

What can be done to keep volunteers in the game? PIC: Simon Parker / England Hockey

Dave Miller is retiring after 45 years of volunteering. He tells The Hockey Paper why we shouldn’t take volunteers for granted

Hockey, like so many amateur based sports, has been and always will be reliant on the volunteer.

Sure, the sport in the UK, certainly since the London Olympics, has become more professional and its media profile has never been so high, but it is still so dependent on the work and good will of the volunteer.

I have been volunteering in the sport since I left university in 1974, 45 years of working in hockey that has sustained me throughout my working life and into retirement. It has been the release valve, the social go to and a way of life that kept me sane and provided the check to the pressure of work and family life.

For some like myself it has been easy and has never been a burden or a chore, rather a pressure release which has come naturally and which I have always enjoyed. When I started work teaching in my first secondary school in the then ‘Pit Community’ of Shiney Row, on the edge of Sunderland, I introduced hockey for boys into a community where boys played football and hockey was a girls’ sport.

Linking with my new hockey club at Durham City, my first role in coaching and youth development started here and within weeks of my first club season I was put on the club committee. Volunteering was underway. This season, leading the volunteer team at Durham University HC for the last time, I have really found my energy levels have been tested as my 66 years take a hold.

A greater need for volunteers

Of course today the world has changed and demands on time are now much greater and the speed of life so much faster, but the need for volunteers in sport is just as important now as it was in the 1970s. I am, though, not sure if the volunteers starting, say, next season in their first club involvement will be as long serving as my generation.

But I am fortunate to be part of a forward-thinking university that puts emphasis on community involvement and volunteering. Helping students find a role in hockey volunteering is very worthwhile, whether it’s in youth development, coaching, umpiring or club administration. The next generation of volunteers are out there.

Three key points we must consider:

1. Don’t take volunteers for granted
2. Praise costs little but means so much
3. Create and encourage active hockey families

As I watch students move through life, I see a different trend as social and family life takes on a very different demand on time. Now, as their young families grow and their life partners demand more of their time, once playing comes to an end so involvement in the sport as a volunteer falls.

Of course there are exceptions; one such being England Hockey‘s Steve Tabb, a past Durham student, who puts more into our sport than anyone I know. But if I could use him as an example, here are some pointers for future volunteering individuals:

• Love of playing the sport at whatever level
• Family involvement in club hockey
• An ideas person who works hard to implement their plans
• Passion, sense of community and a lack of self interest
• Energy both within as well as outside committees
• A supporting partner and family

The final point has been crucial during my years. My wife of 44 years, Jean, has been the most important constant. Although not a sports person herself, she has supported and encouraged my involvement as a volunteer even when I was playing hockey in the winter and cricket in the summer.

Family, where possible, is such an important part of volunteering. My two kids were always at hockey with me. My son Simon took up the sport and played at a good regional level. On his move to university I was planning to move out of hockey and take up other interests, but he decided he wanted to go to Durham and so he became a member of my club. I couldn’t really leave.

A family legacy?

My daughter Kate has always been around my hockey but has always been upset that I did not encourage her to play. Again, things come round and now her son has started to play for his local club side, Leighton Buzzard HC. She is now in attendance again, this time supporting her son and her daughter in the sport she was never encouraged to grow into. She and her husband are now looking at supporting hockey and I think volunteering is not far away.

Dave Miller, pictured middle third from right, with the NE Schoolboy U14s, including a young Barry Middleton

For me I am finally looking to move away from my hockey volunteering. I have a seat in the new DUHC stadium and next season I plan to just turn up and just watch the next generation of student hockey players following on from the likes of recent GB international athletes Steph Elliot, Tess Howard, Jack Waller, Rhys Smith and Jack Turner.

But my grandson is now 10 and playing in goal, like I once did, for LBHC. More family weekends in the south might mean new volunteering opportunities with my daughter and my grandchildren. Sorry, Jean.

Dave Miller’s CV
Dave played as goalkeeper from 1971 to 2012 and umpired from 1994 to 2014 in the North East Leagues. He was a coach and manager at schools and universities during this time, as well as holding a host of administration roles: treasurer, chair and secretary for HA’s and clubs. He was a torch bearer for London 2012 and won an England Hockey volunteer award in 2000.

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