How Volunteering Makes You a Better Athlete

As you build your plans for the upcoming season, I challenge everyone to add one more important component to their schedule: giving back to the sport.  This can be as simple as showing up early to do body marking at one event to running an aid station on course or helping out at a club clinic.  From super sprint to iron-distance races, no one can compete without the help of others and no race can occur without volunteers.  No one crosses an event finish line without some type of support, so we should each repay this favor at some point during our season or play it forward before we even race.  Not only does volunteering make you a better ambassador for the sport, but it also makes you a better athlete in so many ways.  Here are a few examples of the wonderful impact volunteering can have on everyone:

1. Increase Racing Knowledge

Experience in sports (and life!) is priceless.  When you volunteer at an event, you learn the intricate details and logistics involved in a particular aspect of an event, varying from transition flow to aid station layout to course specifics.  No matter what volunteer assignment you have, athletes will look to you as a resource who can provide information about the race and lend a helping hand when needed.  By familiarizing yourself with the event logistics, learning a particular volunteer position, and participating in this supporting role during the race, you gain insight that can be incredibly useful in any future racing you do on any course.  This is a great way for any athlete to get more comfortable with racing as they experience what goes on throughout an event (from pre-event nerves to late day fatigue), and all athletes can pick up racing tips by watching others successfully crush any course.  Great athletes always seek opportunities to learn, and volunteering is one way to increase knowledge and experience while helping others.

2. Gain New Perspective

As you volunteer at a race, you see an event through the eyes of a race director and their support team.  You experience the high level of organization and planning that is necessary to host an event as complex as a triathlon, and you see the chaos that can exist behind the scenes.  Volunteers are the ones trying to help when races don’t go according to plans, and they are often dealing with much more than being a personal bartender throughout an all-day exercising adventure.  By serving as a volunteer you appreciate how incredibly hard these people work during events to support everyone and how lucky we are to have them there.  You also learn quickly that few instructions are provided to volunteers, however they do what it takes to learn how to support the athletes on course as best they can.  Think about all the ridiculous tasks asked of volunteers such as handing out drinks while wobbly cyclists narrowly miss them or helping athletes change out of completely soaked clothes in transition.  Put yourself in their shoes and always thank volunteers for generously donating their time so you can play the sport you love.

3. Build Race Day Confidence By Testing Your Skills

A great way to assess whether or not you truly understand something is to try and teach it to someone else.  If you can explain something clearly so someone else can comprehend your description, that is a good indication you really know that topic and have a high level of comfort with the subject matter.  This may seem a little far from triathlon, but think about the questions you’ve asked a volunteer at an event during your racing career (or something you imagine asking).  This could be a simple as help with a transition setup and properly displaying race numbers, or as involved as a particular course element unique to an event.  If you are volunteering and you are able to clearly explain the information or demonstrate what the athletes needs to do in a way that he/she easily understands, then you not only help that athlete potentially have a better race day, but you also gain confidence in your own working knowledge of the sport.  This confidence will help combat pre-race nerves and come in handy next time you toe the line as well.

4. Share Your Love of the Sport to Build a Strong Community

Even individual sports are more fun when athletes share the experiences with others, so coming to races to cheer or volunteer rather than race is a great way to support growth in triathlon.  People want to participate in sports that are fun and welcoming, so sharing your excitement and positive attitude with others will help build a supportive community and encourage others to participate.  Outside of traditional volunteer roles and cheering stations at events, there are so many ways to share your love of the sport with others!  You can join a relay team with friends who are new to triathlon, volunteer with a club hosting clinics, or spend a day helping at a triathlon camp.  All athletes appreciate support and cheers, and the more appreciation everyone has for each other (and their support squads!) while playing this sport, the more people will want to play.  Smiling does not prevent you from racing hard, so bring this positivity into your racing because as you cheer for others and lift each other up on course, you’ll elevate the entire sport with you.
Whatever your reason for volunteering, please know that triathlon will be a better place for everyone because of your efforts.  I guarantee you will walk away from the experience with a new appreciation for the sport, new friends, new knowledge that will benefit others and yourself in the future, and a whole lot of gratitude to carry with you through your season!
If you need ideas of where, when, and how to give back to the sport – talk to one of us coaches here at RPM, and we’ll help you find an awesome opportunity!

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