lncreasing Volunteerism in Your Pickleball Club

(Caveat Emptor: there is some not-too-polite language here and there in the following article. Not from us, mind, but from the mouths of our peers who were interviewed for this article.)

Any pickleball club succeeds or fails on the backs of its volunteers. (Thank you, Captain Obvious, for a particularly inane lead-in sentence, as we know the vast majority of pickleball clubs are run COMPLETELY by volunteers!) But, hey, you know what we mean. Every function you run gets done either because you yourself run it or because somewhere inside the club you found another fish….sorry, volunteer…to do it. And the list of things our clubs are trying to do keeps growing and growing, and the same people keep signing up, over and over, until at last they can become resentful, overworked, and/or burned out.

We ourselves are habitual volunteers and are so far inside the issue we have opinions but no perspective. So, to broaden our view, we polled a fairly large number of folks, all involved in the running of their clubs, asking them about the ways they dealt with the issue of increasing volunteerism. Some of these were pickleball club board presidents and members, some were volunteer coordinators, some had high volunteer requirements for their functions, (an example being as tournament directors), many were themselves USAPA Ambassadors. Within the respondees, and almost to a person, everybody appreciated our volunteers today and wanted to keep and increase their volunteer base.

(The quotes below are virtually verbatim, in rare places toned down JUST a hair…..)

  • Volunteers are beautiful people in heart and spirit! The blessings just keep flowing. – John S., Regional USAPA Ambassador

Equally, again almost to a person, people were not as charmed with those who seemingly would not help at all, especially when they were accepting value from the club at the same time.

  • Of course there are also the lazy !@#$&! who don’t want to do anything. (They apparently have) o need for inclusion or to “give back” I guess! – R.S., Club Volunteer Coordinator
  • I believe in the 10-80-10 theory:10 percent of the organization are the leaders and the doers. They keep the organization moving forward. They have the vision for the organization and the enthusiasm and energy to work toward the vision. 10% of the organization are malignant turds. They either do nothing at all or are actually counterproductive by complaining or interfering with the operation. The other 80% fall somewhere in between those two.  The 80% are looking for leadership and will pretty much go along to get along as long as they like where they are headed. K.F., Club VP

But most felt there was an in-between point.

  • All volunteers need to be recognized and awarded somehow! – Christie B., Tournament Director
  • I have been pondering the volunteerism issue and I really don’t know what to say. In my other life I learned that volunteers have a short interest span that, on a line graph, would look somewhere between a ski slope and a cliff. Keeping them excited and motivated is a huge challenge because the carrot and stick method usually doesn’t work. Fortunately (or not,) most volunteers have already reached the upper levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy so they are usually seeking different rewards. Plus we rarely have a carrot to dangle in front of them. So the reward has to be the nice, warm feeling one gets from doing something significant to help others. For most, the only reward they seek is the recognition, gratitude and respect from the others in the organization who appreciate their efforts. And that’s a good thing, because the nice, warm feeling doesn’t always last that long, especially when they encounter discordance. It reminds me of an old saying: “Doing a good job around here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling but nobody seems to notice.” In an organization that depends totally on volunteers, we can’t afford to overlook anyone’s contribution. – Foster K., Club Director of Communications

Their and our conclusions are presented below. (Not everyone polled agreed with every position stated, of course….presented below are the majority conclusions.)

  1. Overall there is an issue with too-few volunteers in most clubs. Generally, as expected, people estimate that, at most, around 15% of the members of a medium-sized (200-person-plus) club or larger wind up doing most of the work. Some found they can get an additional 5-10% of the population doing occasional or one-time volunteer activities.
    • Same old, Same old – every year, the same people do the work. Maybe you get a few more doing one-shot deals like line-judging. Even there it isn’t a slam-dunk; we now offer pizza during the medal rounds. That gets people to stick around and line-judge, too! – Walt K., Tournament Director
  1. It was the opinion of most that even increasing volunteerism by 10% (from 15% to 25%) in a club would be a huge benefit.
    • We worry all the time when we need something new done. We’re burning out our good ones. Even a few more, ten percent more maybe, would help big-time. – Axel J., Club Outreach Chair
  1. People polled thought that volunteers signed up for several reasons:
  • A desire to give back to the club.
  • A “volunteer-mindset” – one told us that “If I am going to be in any organization, I’m going to find a way to get involved.”
  • They want a way to use their already-developed talents and skills. More on this later.
  • They want to be considered “part of the gang” – either for social reasons or to become associated with the better players so they can, themselves, improve, or both. (If the culture of the club is one of volunteerism, these folks will quickly enlist.)
  • A desire to experience the “warm feeling” described above by
  1. The overall issues with increasing volunteerism seem to lump themselves either into retaining existing volunteers or into finding ways to be inclusive of and welcoming to new members who haven’t previously volunteered.

So, if retention of existing volunteers and inclusion of new volunteers are the separate major issues, what are the most common successful strategies within each area? Let’s look at your thoughts:

  1. Retention of Existing Volunteers. Defined, this means not only keeping existing volunteers in the job pool but keeping them happy, energized and satisfied. Identified strategies for systemically improving recogntion include:
  • Individualizing the recognition. Many volunteers will say they don’t want thanks. We think they are delusional (LOL!) – everybody wants some recognition…just not the same type in some cases, depending on their personality style. (This point, “style”, comes up again when soliciting new people in #2, below.) The following speaks directly to the style concept, to personalizing recognition to the individual.
    • How do we award excellent volunteers? First, I think you need to know their personalities and why they volunteer, because not all of us like the same kind of acknowledgment. Those volunteers who surround themselves with lots of people may rather have a luncheon in their honor, a tournament in their honor, or an appreciation letter from a director of a facility. Other volunteers who are in charge may like a story in the newsletter as to how they impacted players or programs something named after them like a tournament. Volunteers who want to do their job better than anyone else are the achievers and they are the ones who like tangible awards like plaques, pins, a badge that can be displayed. (Just go to a doctors office and if you see all the plagues and achievements on the wall that should tell you something about that doctor and the type of personality he has! He’s not a volunteer, but you get the picture.) Some volunteers (ed: note…who give hours of their time refereeing), just want a free lunch! – Christie B., Regional USAPA Ambassador
  • Recognition programs supporting the club culture. Defined, this means that, in spite of the value of personalizing recognition, people also perceived that establishing a recognition routine or tradition is also of value, and these routines and traditions can vary widely. It almost seemed to us that what the program itself was didn’t matter that much as long as it was tied to the club culture and regularly reinforced. Then it was esteemed. Here are some other thoughts from the respondents about that:
    • Last month some of the players of the group I started 5 years ago got together and nominated me for a Volunteer Award,for introducing pickleball to my city and province. I was honored at an award banquet and my nominators’ letter was read,after which I was presented with a plaque from the Mayor. (The plaque read) City of (omitted), Volunteer Appreciation Award, Sport. – Ray D., Club President, USAPA Ambassador
    • For those type of volunteers who really go the extra mile, we have been experimenting with a medal called the USAPA Gold Medal of the Heart. The idea of course is you can collect a whole drawer full of gold medals from tournaments, but there is only one Gold Medal of the Heart which you will remember forever. We give out a citation and medal in an informal setting by stopping play for about 2 min. It has been well received by all who witness it. This is not as yet an official part of the USAPA program but I will be proposing it soon. – Bob A., Club President, USAPA Ambassador
  1. Identification and inclusion of new members. Defined this means finding new people who might become volunteers and making them feel welcome in the volunteer poor. Strategies included:
  • Setting Clear Expectations. Defined, this simply means being very clear with potential volunteers about what you are asking them to do.
    • Putting some structure to the “to do” list helps Tournament Directors/club coordinators recruit the volunteers needed….many hands make light work. – Jones W., USAPA Ambassador
    • I have found that people will often volunteer if they know exactly what is wanted from them. Instead of announcing….. “we need line judges,” I ask Joe “will you be line judge for games 1&2? People don’t want to get trapped into doing something all day long or not knowing what they may be asked to do. – Laura T., USAPA Ambassador
    • Provide a list of volunteer positions including a short blurb (summary for publicizing) of what the position does, time frames of the work and estimates of time required.  Includes both team leader positions and team member positions. Is there a commitment (say 2 years) you are asking for – make that a part of the description – Bob V., Club President, Tournament Director
    • Documentation from previous volunteer coordinators so people do not have to reinvent the wheel. Lead times, contacts, list of action items, quantities, anything that will help future volunteers.– Bob V., Club President, Tournament Director
  • Be specific and direct. Defined, this means asking people clearly for their help.
    • (If) you break things down into small time commitments and, if necessary, ask people individually to fill a specific slot I’m sure that you will have plenty of help Everyone always think(s) (or hopes) that others will do the tasks so they aren’t really needed. When they are asked directly, they realize that their help really is needed and are usually willing to comply. – Laura T, USAPA Ambassador
    • I find the direct method works best for me. Look them in the eye and say, I need your help and then make sure you get an answer. I realize this is piece meal but the (email) blaster method (ed: note…that Roger’s club had been using) seems ineffective. – Roger F., Club Treasurer
    • Each meeting we read our mission statement to CLARIFY! We did this, at the get go, because we have all lived long enough to know the common nature of people and the need to spell out why we formed this club in the first place! Has worked fairly well. As the saying goes that I had on the wall of my classroom, “We must learn to live with the imperfect solution”. This reading process helps, but there are still a few who believe that serving them to be a natural order of things. = David M., Club President, USAPA Ambassador
    • (Editors Note: the following is the Mission Statement alluded to by David M., above.) Mission statement of the HR Pickelball Club: The purpose of creating the HR Pickleball club is to enhance the growth of pickleball in our community. This being our mission, it becomes clear that in order to meet this mission, duties and responsibilities for the operation of a smooth functioning club must be shared by all paying club members. It is the responsibility of the officers and board to clearly state what duties and responsibilities need to be addressed, be it official positions or common but necessary mundane duties. Clearly understanding our mission, it is hoped that the membership will step forward to perform duties and responsibilities as they arise throughout the year.
  • Recognize the individual styles of the volunteers. Defined, this means that not everybody is motivated or attracted by the same aspects of volunteerism – a lot depends on who they are as people and folks say they attract more volunteers when they recognize their individual needs and desires.
    • In general I have found that newbies with (pleasant) confident, outgoing personalities will be enveloped into the fold to the extent that they are willing and able if they are informed as to what needs to be done.(Ed. Note: speaks to being clear as well as adapting communication to style.) But there are a whole lot of shy individuals who feel lesser than the exalted gods who are doing the marvelous things, and while they have a lot to give and want to feel needed/included, they need significant support and personal/multiple invitations to participate before they feel competent to perform. Even though they could have done it from day one. Worth the work to get them in as once in they are committed. – Rosemary N., Volunteer Coordinator
    • Players or non-players want to join and become volunteers to be able to use their gifts and want to be able to fit into a particular job, not just any volunteer job. Each volunteer has personality styles and in order to fit in, they need a list of possible things they could do like a job description or descriptions from which to choose from. For me, I am a brain stormer, a socializer – cheerleader type, with a touch of humor, and a get-things-done personality. So, give me a demonstration, a flyer to create, or any kind of think out of the box type of volunteer work and I will be all over it. Others are time oriented, they relate well with people, they are easy to get to know, and are friendly. These volunteers like to stay out of the lime light, but would be good at greet and meet gatherings and would be great with relating to new players to establish new friendships in the pickleball group. Some personality types are introverts so maybe they prefer to order shirts, pick up medals, make coffee and cookies, or check players in at a tournament, etc. – Christie B., Regional USAPA Ambassador
  • Organize your plan for inclusiveness. Have it include regularly-held events. Utilize new electronic tools to reach out to more folks. Create positions such as Volunteer Coordinator. Several mentioned creation of a Social Committee to create more interaction. Stress benefits in the plan, such as diminishing the sense of “isolation” some people feel when they don’t know the existing player base. And repeat key messages in your mission statements, pamphlets, etc. as repetition is key to building an inclusive culture.
    • The Board will be creating a Volunteer Coordinator position within the organization, not just an as needed position but one that will support all of the committees and functional areas of the club. You need volunteers?, this is the “go to” person to help you find them. I would also like to see a Social Committee that will provide more opportunities for players to meet other players that are very active in the Club and help them see how important it is to support the Club through volunteering.
      I am also counting on the new Board members and Round Robin Captains to encourage members to get involved. More communication within the Club will give visibility to the areas where members can serve their Club.
      – Donna C., Club President
    • (I would like to see pickleball clubs) set up a Social Committee. Have them organize a weekly or minimally bimonthly Sunday or Saturday potluck-social for all level of playing. The (club) members are getting isolated from one another and this would expand communication between the various groups. I think having demo games and fun mixer games would make it enjoyable for all levels – (combinations of skill levels and genders).Volunteers will help people they know and feel welcomed by.” – Chris G., Tournament Director
    • (Using) some of these new communication tools like, Constant Contact and Sign Up Genius should give us the ability to get the word out, maybe a little subtle shaming will take place as well.  I know that we have to begin the process early and keep the pressure on throughout the season and really help players understand that you do not have to be a seasoned player to have a positive impact on the club. Being a volunteer will increase the sense of belonging to the Club and will decrease the sense of isolation from players that play at different levels, players that you might not otherwise meet.– Donna C., Club President

Of course, a few amazingly lucky folks don’t have the problems most of us have, and it’s important to recognize that there are exceptions:

    • (“We have) no volunteers at our club. Our club is operated like a tennis club. Members pay huge dues so the club employees do everything for us. We do not organize (our own) tournaments so no volunteers (are) needed.” – V. Y., Court Utilization Chair

The above, of course, is a reality at some tennis clubs, we know, and V.Y., quoted above, is playing pickleball in a very upscale tennis club that offers pickleball on the side. So he isn’t being facetious, he really is experiencing the situation as explained…we checked! Hey, given the inevitably increasing market weight of pickleball, perhaps that’s the end-goal for us who are now struggling every day to find another Round-Robin Captain or two.

We, however, are not holding their collective breath for that go hzppdn in our lifetimes, and we don’t recommend you do, either. Save your breath instead for your next face-to-face solicitation or for your next recognition presentation. In the shorter term you, your new volunteers and your club will all be better off.

# # #

Note: A very sincere note of thanks to all of you who contributed to this article. Unfortunately, without turning an already long article into a book, we couldn’t quote everyone directly. But whether we quoted you or not, know your contribution was valued and is part of the above. And we truly hope this gives some of you ideas that will improve your club’s available volunteers in the future. Keep Growing our Game! A. J. and Irene


  • April 14, 2019

    Very good information. We are looking for job description for club volunteers. Lessons, tournament, associatioN, etc.

    We are a new club just uploaded our website – still work in progress
    Incorporate our club late 2018. We are now looking to put our volunteer teams together.

    Anything suggestions?

    • Us
      April 15, 2019

      Thanks for your kind comments. We have information on some of your issues and may not have it on others. For instance we don’t remember an actual section of job descriptions for club volunteers, although we do have a complete tournament manual loaded into this site and you may want to search it out and read it. Report back if you can’t find it. We’ve been having some trouble with links and we could put it on the list.

      Putting volunteer teams together makes us want to raise crosses and pin garlic to our lapels…..please, please keep us away from having to do that again. The only real suggestions we have are as follows: 1. Don’t wait until you need them. If you are putting a new club together start now as you are. You will be pleased over time how many quality people you find in your club and what remarkable talents they have. But at the last minute you won’t find the best ones unless you are incredibly lucky. 3. Ask people individually as you identify them. If necessary guilt is a great motivator and we’ve used it from time to time. We prefer not to be too manipulative, however. Often times just asking people a couple of times is a good idea. Ask them what their issues are if they refuse, from the standpoint of “can we do anything to make it better?”. Sometimes you can split or share jobs, take off a responsibility that a really good candidate just hates to do (e.g. one of our friends just hates training but loves building training courses). Another thing we have done with success is to ask people what their special talents are and could they see those talents being used in a club. We got the best food-coordinator you ever saw that way one time. And one of the very best referee coordinators, too. The latter had done that exact job in big time soccer for year.
      Lastly, appoint a volunteer coordinator. This person would actually do all of the team coordinator for tournaments, too. For instance, having line judge teams ready to go for medal matches can save you lots of angst late in the day. Have him/her set up teams, ask them for cute names for their group, make a big deal out of announcing them when you call the medal match, etc.

      Oh, one more thing. Make sure that you have at least one big event called “volunteer appreciation day” and make it a big deal. In one club we ran we had a full day for volunteer appreciation, starting with breakfast (which the board cooked….board members get less recognition than others, LOL) and going on into events, a clinic just for them, a round-robin with fun rules, and a pizza party at night. Sometimes with a DJ. We may have gone over the top a bit but there you are…after awhile in that club it wasn’t just the normal 20% of the club doing 80% of the work. That same club is now 1,000+ members strong and has all the volunteers it can shake sticks at. It’s become part of the culture; you want to run with the elite, you help do the work.

      Does that help? Hope so.

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