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Valuing volunteers: tips to make life easier fo coaches, troop leaders

Are volunteers an engangered species? That's the concern of various organizations whose very existence depends on their services. Women who once served as Scout leaders now dash off to salaried jobs. Men who once coached park district soccer teams find their spare time increasingly squeezed by demands at work and at home.

The message becomes clear: Do unto volunteers as you would have them do unto you if you were a volunteer. Specifically:

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1. Don't ask for more than your volunteer has offered to give. If your volunteer is nice enough to drive your child home after a meeting, don't ask if she could possibly swing "only a mile" out of her way to drop him off at the baby sitter's. Make other arrangements yourself, without putting your volunteer in the position of having to say "no."

2. Do offer to give your volunteer all the help and support you can. If you can't do something because you "work" (please word this tactfully; don't imply that your volunteer is not working simply because she doesn't get paid for this job or doesn't punch a time clock), then offer to help in some other way that will not interfere with your work. Don't say "no" simply because it would be inconvenient.

3. Do take your turn at being a volunteer. Unfortunately, it is usually the same few who do the major share of volunteering, for everything from Scouts to making phone calls for the PTA. Whereas you may feel better if you convince yourself that they must enjoy it (why else would they do it so much?), it is usually a matter of their realizing that someonem has to do it, and since no one else will . . . .

4. Don't offer your child's coaches or leaders advice. They may have to resist very hard the temptation to offer youm the job, and probably if you had wanted it, it would have been yours for the asking. Save your knowledge until you are asked for advice or, better yet, until youm coach a team or lead a troop.

5. Don't offer the team advice, either. Keep your remarks from the sidelines limited to such positive encouragement as, "Go, Black Hawks, go," or "Go, Jimmy, go." It helps on one's morale to have someone in the crowd scolding any of the players, even if it is someone's own child.

It can hurt the game to have a parent hollering advice that might be contrary to be coach's game plan. Imagine how a child must feel whose coach has told him that under no circumstances should he steal second base, but who hears his father screeching, "Steal second!" That is pressure no one needs, least of all our small children. And it is a hindrance that no one needs, least of all our volunteers.

6. Don't automatically assume that the Coach's child is playing more than some of the other team members simply because he or she ism the coach's child. Maybe he really is as good as or better than the others -- yes, even your child or mine.

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One mother feels the problem is more apt to be the reverse. She says, "In our case, despite what I have heard some of the parents mumble, my husband underm plays our son just to prevent such criticism, adding yet another disadvantage to being the coach or child of the coach."

7. Do be prompt at getting your child or yourself to and from events.No volunteer wants to repeat instructions or information for late arrivals, and no coach or leader wants to give up even more time in baby-sitting children whose parents come 15 minutes late to pick them up because "I had just one more errand to run."

8. Do notify your volunteer if you or your children are not going to be able to attend an activity. A longtime Cub Scout den mother says, "My chief complaint is not being called when one of my Cubs is unable to attend a meeting. I pick up my group of boys after school and we go en masse to our meeting. I often wait 10 minutes before word-of-mouth brings the news that Billy isn't coming."

9. Do show your appreciation freely. A kind word keeps many a volunteer going. Encourage your children to be appreciative. A special thank you at the end of the year or season is most heartily recommended.

One volunteer says, "For better or worse, my Brownies are going to have me as their leader again next year because two of them took the time and trouble to walk eight blocks just to tell me thanks and that they enjoyed being in my troop and -- something I don't hear every day from my own kids -- that they thought I was nice! It not only made the past year all worthwhile, but motivated me to offer my services for the next year!"

Children should also be encouraged -- no, required -- . . . well, this is so important that it deserves a listing all its own. . . .

10. Do give your child strict instructions to obey the volunteer and to use all the common courtesy he has been taught at home.This means such niceties as silence when the volunteer is talking, no roughhousing during the Pledge of Allegiance, and liberal use of please and thank you.

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