10 Ways to Prevent Volunteer Burnout

When my son was in grade school, I switched all my volunteer activities to Scouts rather than PTO—because the Scout dads were just glad I showed up while the PTO moms preferred to micromanage and criticize. And nothing can make you more bitter and burned out than being criticized for volunteer work.

Youth hockey parents have plenty of volunteer opportunities—from coaching to managing to running the clock—and they have plenty of opportunities for criticism. (Play my kid! My kid had that assist! Pizza again?!) But it’s not just criticism that leads to burnout. Volunteering can also eat into your family time, work time and workout time—and possibly exhaust your creative energy and patience. When recruiting and managing volunteers, keep the following in mind to prevent burnout:

1. Ask in person: You might get volunteers via email or at a team meeting, but if you still have positions to fill, ask someone in person. They’re more likely to feel needed and less likely to say no.
2. Learn volunteers’ names: If you’re the coach or team manager, everyone will know your name. My friends still talk about a coach who thanked the wrong mother for hosting an end-of-season party—as he left her house.
3. Thank loudly and often: Express your appreciation for volunteers, privately and in front of the team. After a team event, send an email to the team thanking the organizers. Don’t forget to thank volunteers for mundane administrative tasks that others don’t see as well.
4. Watch for burnout: Be on the lookout for signs that a volunteer has had enough—looking tired, snapping at people, being unprepared—particularly with jobs that have potential for confrontation such as treasurer. Offer to recruit helpers.
5. Be thoughtful: Getting yourself a coffee? See if the tournament desk volunteer needs one.
6. Provide time estimates: For more significant jobs, such as team manager or treasurer, find out how long they really take so people know what they’re getting into.
7. Break down jobs: If possible, break down jobs into smaller, more manageable jobs. One coach used to assign parents to bring both pucks and water bottles to practice—a tough job for moms with strollers. Which leads to…
8. Don’t volunteer other people: Why would mothers with infants volunteer to bring pucks and water bottles? They didn’t. Their spouses signed them up when they weren’t there.
9. Spread the work around: Some parents emerge as leaders and it’s easy to just have them do all the work—but if they can’t be there or have too much to do, other volunteers need to know how to help.
10. Offer backup: Make sure volunteers know that they can say no.

The more fun and rewarding you can make the volunteer experience, the more people will want to help. If you’re a volunteer yourself, you understand!

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kelly Kordes Anton with the Grow the Game Initiative for this story.
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