There has been a lot of chatter lately about agility and volunteers.
How some people never volunteer, how others always volunteer, how to treat volunteers, volunteer perks such as meals, raffles, special crating, valet parking, vouchers, priority entries and more.
For weeks I’ve been trying to verbalize my thoughts on volunteering (yes, really weeks!). I’ve asked dozens of respected agility competitors their thoughts on the topic, I listened for hours to all sides of the issue and I drew from my own personal experiences as a judge and a volunteer.
And from the plethora of information came an amazing epiphany...agility has outgrown ‘volunteerism’ and needs to embrace the future of Teamwork.
Volunteering implies sacrifice and it implies doing something for someone else. This made sense when agility was young, evolving and just a small handful of volunteers were available. This core group of volunteers worked religiously to showcase the new sport, the activities, put on trials and to share the passion and possibilities of what agility could be. There is no doubt that these folks DID sacrifice!
But let’s face it, we’re in the 2nd+ decade of agility and there are now THOUSANDS of handlers across the world who actively participate each and every day. Given the sheer magnitude of the sport and the corresponding events, agility can no longer be a sport where a few do all of the work.
And so I hereby give notice to everyone that as of today, the era of the agility volunteer is officially extinct. It’s gone. They’re burnt out and well, they’ve retired. The volunteers have done their time and so now we need to move on…but to what…?
Teamwork is work performed by a team
towards a common goal.
Teamwork is the base of agility. It’s the heart and soul of what we do with our dogs and when teamwork occurs, my dog and I are successful. So it should be no surprise that teamwork was the inspiration, my epiphany and ultimately my solution when looking to solve the issue on how to move forward from the extinction of our agility volunteers.
It starts like this:
First, (and most importantly) we need to break down ALL of the agility tasks into much smaller and manageable pieces. For example, leash running – why not allow and encourage 2 different people to job-share the task and give a small portion of their time? This lets one person start and another take over after they have completed their run.
Second, encourage friends and/or groups to ‘sponsor’ or oversee to a position in a designated class. For example, have ‘Dog Training Club A’ or ‘Group of Friends B’ be responsible for filling the timer position in Novice. What’s different is that the position can be flexible and be rotated among that group’s members during the class. The benefits are that the group trains each other, they maintain flexibility, no one person is ‘stuck’ there and no one is yelling “I need a timer…”. Additionally, this spreads the workload out among everyone so no one is overtaxed.
Here’s a thought…just imagine if each team had 9 people on it and there were 16+ teams available to help out at a trial. The teams could be pre-assigned to a class/responsibility and it’s members would work for only a very short period of time. How simple is that!
Third, we’ve moved into a new era in agility and there needs to be an understanding that EVERYONE who participates in agility is a part of the agility community team. And, each team member must contribute their small part (remember, the volunteers who did everything are now extinct!).
Fourth, we need to think differently! We’ve outgrown the volunteering system and accompanying bribery programs that went along with it. Sure, they were nice (I love food and raffles!), but in most cases, they didn’t fully solve the problem or address the real issue.
The Real Issue:
We all agree that agility is a team sport. And I KNOW most of us would gladly offer assistance to a dog having an agility issue…so why are we hesitant to offer assistance to a human when they have an agility trial need…?
Frankly, it’s time the teamwork overflowed and extended outside the course. Everyone needs to realize that the agility community IS a team and the active participation of ALL of it’s team members is not only needed, but required. Why required? Well, each team member adds to the event! Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s only about having warm bodies to fill the chairs, because it’s so much more than that. It’s about sharing member’s expertise, their spirit, uniqueness, quality the love of our dogs and much more. It’s about supporting all of the handlers and the dogs who have made the agility journey.
So the next time you’re at a trial, why not get a group of friends together and manage an agility job among yourselves or suggest a job-share on a trial task. Remember, it’s all about the teamwork!