Around the House: Volunteering comes naturally to curlers

Yes, that’s me in the picture, chatting away to a couple of guys who stopped by the Guelph Curling Club table at Stone Road Mall one crisp Saturday a few weeks ago. I volunteered for the morning shift, which meant setting up the sign, putting out brochures of information about curling and our club, and smiling engagingly at passers-by, hoping someone would stop by to chat or, better yet, sign up for one of our many leagues.

Jean Mills volunteers at the Stone Road Mall to promote the Guelph Curling Club.

What can I say?  It was a quiet morning.  Apparently the Friday evening shift had been hopping. The box containing tickets for our draw (a year’s free membership!) felt satisfactorily full. I could feel tickets fluttering around inside as I shook the box hopefully and gazed around for takers.  My colleague, Mike, and I covered a lot of territory as we sat there: jobs, travel experiences, curling (of course) and local news. Every now and then we’d stop to peer around.  Well, it was Saturday morning, so things were pretty slow. Mall walkers hustled by us and everyone seemed to be on a mission – a mission that didn’t include signing up for curling this year.  Undeterred, we sat out our shift until the afternoon reinforcements arrived. Failure?  Not a chance! Just because “if you set it up, they will come” didn’t quite work on this particular Saturday morning, Mike and I knew this experience was just part of the curler’s unwritten handbook: make your volunteer contribution to the club, and do it with a smile on your face. Someone once said to me (as I was preparing food for my son’s school event, phoning other parents and simultaneously setting up a car pool) “Where would we be without the mothers?” Well, true. But where would curling clubs be without the volunteers?  Ask any curler you know and they will tell you that volunteer opportunities abound at our clubs, and we tend to jump at them without complaining.  The uninitiated might consider these opportunities to be more like obligations, but curlers just don’t seem to see it that way.

Volunteers at the 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts (Photo: Andrew Klaver Photography)

In my own curling career, I’ve catered meals, set and cleaned up tables, MC-ed events, organized bonspiels (and I mean the works), figured out the weekly draw for 11 teams in a 2-sheet club (believe me, that is not so easy), written marketing material, coached Little Rockers and Juniors, and just generally been the go-to girl for others.  And I consider myself a lightweight. If you’ve ever attended one of the Canadian Curling Association’s championship events, you will have seen the many, many volunteers wearing matching jackets in a suitably noticeable hue, spread out around the arena, the concourse, the host hotel and even the town.  Maybe it doesn’t show up so well on television, but they are there, cheerfully undertaking the jobs that keep events running. We owe them, but don’t tell them that.  Curling volunteers tend to be perfectly happy to take on any job, as long as they’re somehow part of the show.  (And I’ve heard that the volunteer after-parties are pretty darn memorable, too). So what’s the secret of being a good volunteer?  Here’s what I’ve learned: Rule 1: You don’t have to be an expert. Event planners need your energy and enthusiasm, not your expertise (although that can come in handy too, of course).  Don’t let a lack of experience stop you. Rule 2: This one has two parts. If you’re (a) in charge, understand that your troops are volunteers, not employees.  Treat them with respect and affection; they signed on to help you and the club out, not to assume the role of minion (although most of the volunteers I’ve met were quite happy to be minions).  Thank them for a job well done.  On the other hand, if you’re (b) the minion taking orders, keep your fabulous organizing suggestions to yourself.  The person giving you direction has assumed the risk and responsibility of getting the job done. The last thing he or she needs is someone on a 2-hour shift to walk in and start trying to run the show.  It’s a delicate balancing act, but when everyone knows his or her role in the big picture, it works.  Which brings me to… Rule 3: Smile, enjoy yourself, and make the most of the experience. It’s supposed to be fun! A few days after my volunteer shift at the mall, I received an email from the organizer, thanking me and my fellow club members for our efforts on behalf of our club.  Will I volunteer for mall duty again? You bet. That’s just what curlers do. This week’s burning question: What was your best/worst curling-related volunteering experience?  Let me know at [email protected]