As part of USTA.com's coverage of the 2012 CTDW in "The Big Easy," we're going around the workshops to discover which new ideas, initiatives and practices are pushing people towards the ultimate goal: To promote and develop the game at all levels.
Along the way we'll meet the impassioned speakers delivering the presentations and come to know what drives their efforts.
Who they are:
- Andrew Feldman, Senior Manager of USTA Learning & Leadership Development
- Jennifer Gregg, Assistant Executive Director, USTA Maryland
Why they're speaking:
Feldman serves as national staff coordinator for volunteers at the US Open, the pre-eminent American tournament on the tennis calendar. Gregg, who works at the section level for USTA Mid-Atlantic, began work as a volunteer over 20 years ago for Washington D.C.’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic – an annual stop during the US Open Series summer tour – before taking on the expanded role of a volunteer coordinator. Gregg also serves in a similar capacity for the 2011 Champion Washington Kastles of World TeamTennis. Both speakers are routinely tasked with managing hundreds of volunteers each year and know the value of hard work, especially coming from tennis enthusiasts, parents, senior citizens and others who accept roles without payment.
Many organizations are satisfied by simply having volunteer committees in place – not the USTA. Strategy behind what a coordinator wants to accomplish – having goals, distinguishing a candidate’s skills and then re-assessing those skills after monitoring their work – creates healthy events and keeps programs running for years to come. When a new year comes around and a coordinator can accurately determine which volunteers should remain in a role and which should try something new, it’s a credit to strategy – a 2.0 idea.
"Be the group in your community that people want to volunteer for," says Gregg to the crowd. "Most places have basketball, baseball, and all other kinds of sports programs. All need volunteers, but rarely do any offer the incentives of picking up new skills."
Simply put: Organizers who are not thoughtful of their volunteers generally aren’t thought of twice by those same volunteers when the next season of activity rolls around.
Volunteerism supports the USTA in its organizational quest to promote and develop the growth of tennis. Becoming a USTA volunteer usually starts in your local community, perhaps through a Community Tennis Association (CTA) or other existing tennis program. Most people who volunteer at the USTA national level start as volunteers for their local, district, or section of the USTA. Once accounted for, a volunteer can proceed to help in a number of ways: Serving on a committee, helping at a tournament, coaching new players, assisting with special events, and much more.
Feldman and Gregg relay the point that for tennis volunteerism to work effectively, it is necessary for to both clarify roles and follow a network communication plan. If a program’s mission is to keep youth players off the street and help put them into college, make clear the expectation by being explicit.
"Determine how to use your volunteers to fulfill a defined vision and never ask a volunteer to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself," said Gregg. "If you follow that, you truly have a chance to achieve."
Feature Idea: Stratego
When Feldman envisions a strong volunteer effort, he sees similarities to "Stratego," the Napoleonic board game of military conquest invented by the Chinese, tweaked by the French and perfected in America by the Milton Bradley Company.
"Now obviously we’re not telling you to annihilate your volunteers and capture their flag," said Feldman to laughs. "But there are parallels in that you have to have an understanding of when and where you can move your pieces to be successful."
Feldman’s example: A volunteer coordinator for a July tennis tournament in the southern part of the United States must take weather into account and set expectations of volunteers ahead of time – knowing your own job descriptions down cold can help an entire staff beat the heat.
"A brilliant idea I recently saw was a coordinator drafting a ‘shade and sun’ checklist, listing tasks by whether the person’s duties would have them exposed to the sun for long durations of the day. By disclosing that aspect and receiving feedback, you can go a long way in placing people in the correct roles."
Coordinators are also best served to take the initiative to say thank you to volunteers and learn each of their names.
"A person does not volunteer for recognition," said Feldman. "Yet its more strategy in that an organizer can go a long way in saying ‘I recognize and appreciate what you’re doing.’ If not, that very same volunteer could easily think: ‘Well, it doesn’t matter if I show up to do this work,’ because they’re not getting any feedback."
According to Feldman and Gregg, all too often coordinators will come into an event without a game plan for their volunteers aside from assembling a group together. Without knowing enough – or sometimes, anything – about them, too many are left sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to do while duties are assigned.
"There’s nothing worse than not having anything to do for a volunteer – and chances are, if you make someone wait around for hours, it’s a person you really don’t need to utilize in the first place," said Feldman.
How to Improve: Checklist, Please
The spirit of volunteerism is in a person’s willingness of others to look inward, finding a cause they love and then giving their personal time and energy to nurture that cause. In the end, coordinators owe it to themselves to complete their own self-assessments of how they are managing personalities after every event for the sake of their tennis mission.
Things they must honestly determine with each case:
1) Did I orient my volunteers in a systematic way?
2) Did I provide adequate training for the job/task?
3) Did I put them to work right away?
4) Did I make my expectations clear?
5) Did I do everything I could to match volunteer skills and the job?
6) Did I ask the volunteers what they would like to do?
7) Did I provide evaluations of the volunteer’s performance?
8) Did I give continuous feedback to our volunteers on their performance?
9) Did I solicit feedback from the volunteers on how I performed?
10) Did I ask if their time was well spent?
In the realm of tennis, Gregg makes the final point that successful groups will:
- Have a volunteer coordinator to oversee the operations of volunteers during an event or program.
- Have a volunteer handbook to explain job descriptions exactly, giving vital information about goals and organization ahead of time.
- Have a volunteer application to assess skills such as if a volunteer can speak a different language, and
- Have an orientation to foster team spirit and to get to know names and faces.
Learn more with USTA Volunteering and become part of the effort to promote and develop tennis in the United States today!