Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

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What to do about lack of Volunteers at Grassroots Recreation Organizations?

By: A. Ries

Erin Sharpe’s article, Resources at the Grassroots of Recreation (2006), explains that grassroots organizations have an enormous issue with getting the resources needed to provide recreation to the community. This is especially true when it comes to “manpower”. She explains that over 95% of work done at a grassroots organization is completed by volunteers and that over 75% of organizations don’t even have any paid staff. It is also mentioned that low funding can be a good thing for some organizations as it lets them operate how they want instead of how the funder wants (e.g. funder may want money to go towards a baseball league, but a basketball league is what the community wants). Furthermore, volunteer run organizations usually must rely on individuals with little or no managerial experience, unlike paid not-for-profit organizations.

From my personal experience in recreation, I can say that volunteers are a huge benefit to organizations, in particular to grassroots organizations since they are almost fully dependent on volunteers. Sharpe’s case study on the Appleton Minor Softball League saw that although the league was small and personable, with some players coming from out of town, the lack of funding, in turn because the league didn’t want to make money and only wanted to offer baseball for the players, had issues finding “secondary volunteers”, volunteers to fill extra roles. (snack standing, secondary coaching, site convener, newspaper, etc). Although not necessary to run the league, it would have helped the league run more effectively.

From this article I ask the question: “How can we entice parents, or others, to volunteer?”

What was surprising to me was that the class explained that some parents tend to be at every game, yet they do not volunteer to help out the league that their child, or children, participate in. When I was younger I competed in many competitions as a swimmer. Since my dad went to every meet with me, he decided to become an official as he would rather help run the competitions instead of sitting around for almost the entire competition waiting for my five to ten minutes of competing in an entire weekend.

Other articles, referenced below, have also raised the same issue. There are simply not enough individuals are volunteering to help run grassroots organizations. I believe that the recreation field needs to look more into how to convince citizens to volunteer more, or even to start volunteering.


Sharpe, E. K. (2006). Resources at the Grassroots of Recreation: Organizational Capacity and Quality of Experience in a Community Sport Organization. Leisure Sciences, 28(4), 385-401. doi:10.1080/01490400600745894

Martha L., B., & Erin K., S. (2009). Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management: A Case Study of an Alternative Approach to Volunteer Engagement in Parks and Recreation. Voluntas: International Journal Of Voluntary And Nonprofit Organizations, (2), 169.

Sharpe, E. (2003). “It’s not fun any more:” a case study of organizing a contemporary grassroots recreation association. Society & Leisure, 26(2), 431-452.

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Did your vote affect Canadian Elite sport? A look at the funding and Administration of Sport in Canada into 2016-

The primary issues in the readings entitled “How Canada Funds amateur athletes” and “Canadian high-performance sport faces uncertain future” are clear and evident even without reading a word from the article.  Funding is the Canadian system is similar to the British system in the sense that the sports and athletes that have had, and are projected to have the most success will be granted a higher piece of the proverbial pie than athletes in less successful or relatively subordinate sports.

It is my opinion that the real issue in the reading on how Canada funds amateur athletes should be the definition the reader gives to “success” as it relates to Sport Canada and our Olympic funding.  Stinson asks the question whether our current sport funding model accomplishes the larger goal of a more active society, and to that I ask Stinson why it is the problem of our Elite Sport organizations to make our society more active?  Is it clearly stated that the purpose of high level sport in to activate a nation of lazy and underachieving people?  I question that statement that the more active society bit is the larger goal of any elite sport organization.  I have no problem paying my tax dollars to see our Canadian athletes have success on the podium, I draw great strength and patriotism from seeing our athletes do well, but I think it is silly to expect us to become some fit and healthy nation by piggybacking on elite athlete’s successes.

A key issue is that in the face of so many drastic changes in the past months, where is steady ground for athletes sports managers and what can be expected moving forward?  We know the support that Harper and the conservative government gave to Olympic athletes, but are yet unsure where the new Liberal majority finds value and how the change in government may re-allocate funds, possibly away from high-performance sport.  The issue is uncertainty, and the by-product is a sport system is limbo; waiting for policies to be made that may affect an athlete’s hopes and dreams and years of hard work.

Both of these articles are super important to us a sport and recreation professionals because in one way or another we will all look to make improvements and innovate in our specific fields and that inevitably requires funding.  It may not be funding directly from the government or elite sports organizations, but to have an understanding of the landscape of the industry and what the issues are is very pertinent.  When we are dealing with public funds it is so important to be transparent and lay all the issues on the table.  The Canadian society has the right to know what the implications of the new government are and how that may or may not affect athletes on the podium in upcoming games.  As a student interested in identification and development of elite talent these articles provide me with a base of knowledge to build upon and form my own opinions and conclusions.  I want to know that Canada as a government and as a society are behind my efforts to develop strong Canadian talent and find value in our international successes, so without critical articles like these I am left without a sense of the Canadian heartbeat on the issues.

It is my strong, and somewhat stubborn, opinion that we need to keep investing in our athletes, and I would hope that the new government will continue to do so.  In my view sport and rec management is too complicated an issue for people in the media to jump all over based solely on the dollars figures associated with it.  We know that so many people get so much more out of sport than just entertainment, as Foster and Hyatt (2008) touched on in ‘Inventing Team Tradition.’ Sports has the powerful influence of bringing people together in a real way and creating life long bonds.  I know I have found common ground with people I for any other reason would never associate with based on our shared love for sport, especially elite Canadian national sport.

Even though I find myself wanting to defend the Elite sports side of things and say that we should never re-allocate money away from elite sport, it can be critically argued that without grassroots sport and investments in development, hundreds of potential participants and possible elite athletes would never be exposed to sport, or maybe the sport they are best suited to excel in.  As an example of the broader focus, from the in class article on Sport Funding Accountability Frameworks (SFAF) by Havaris and Danylchuk (2007) we learn that previously the government has allocated over 70% of funds to elite sport, there has been a shift towards a 60/40 split between high performance and sport development.  I find this to be a healthy and stable union of the two and hope to see Sport Canada maintain our level of excellence while increasing our participation number and seeing more kids enter the stream towards high level competition.

To think critically about these issues with which the vast majority of us have no real pertinent knowledge or experience is burdensome at best.  It is easy to draw firm conclusions based on pre-conceived assumption and even harder to accept data when is goes against what we thought to be true.  I am guilty of this.  I have found myself very against the “inclusion” and “participation” models of sport and rec solely because of my competitive upbringing and general bias towards what I feel is most important.  But as I take time to criticize my criticisms of “participation” initiatives and the funding thereof, I find it easier to step back and see what will benefit the greater good and bring us as a society benefit, as much as it pains “the competitor” in me.


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Resources in grassroots recreation: Organizational capacity and quality of experience in community sport.

Sharpe, E.K. (2006). Resources at the grassroots of recreation: Organizational capacity and quality of experience in a community sports organization. Leisure Sciences, 28(4),385-401.

After examining Sharpe’s (2006) case study that explored the Appleton Minor Softball League, our class actively discussed problems that affect the experience of those youth sport participation.

At the end of the study, one problem that really stuck out was the importance of winning and losing that seemed to be stressed on these kids. Unfairness was a big issue as parents were upset that some teams were much better than others, and umpires sometimes would not make the right calls.

Now, I personally define recreation as “physically and/or mentally active relaxation”. Recreation should not be something you win at, but rather enjoy doing. Whether that is because you love a certain sport, you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or you just want to have fun with your friends, recreation should not be competitive. It was sad to see through this case study that the tyke division (5 – 7 year olds) had the most troubles of unfairness.

These kids should be concerned about learning more about the sport, and enhancing their social and physical skills, instead of focusing on who wins or loses, or which team is better or not. We discussed how some leagues have now begun to exclude scoreboards for certain ages, this way, learning and fun come before winning.

Let’s take out the scoreboards, and have parents and coaches put emphasis on learning and development at a young age, instead of keeping score. Players and volunteers alike should not feel any pressure in a Rec. league. Competitive leagues should be competitive, recreational leagues should be those looking to have fun, improve their skills, then perhaps advance to the higher leagues if they want too.

What do the readers think? What is your definition of Recreation? Is removing the scoreboard a good idea? Or even more radical which was an idea brought up in class…should PARENTS be removed from games?


A bit extreme perhaps, but its exciting to think about what would happen.

Joe T.