Many parents take up a post on the sidelines to look after their kids, hopefully, and their involvement doesn’t extend to the running of an event. However you will see a few who, (a) look like they know what they are doing; and (b) seem to be the ones always doing something when you get to the track.
So I would like to take a moment to let you in on what they know, what they do, why they do it and how it all came about.
Volunteers run cycling. Period.
From the club worker at the track holding a stopwatch to the board members of Cycling SA, we are all volunteers with: (a) full-time jobs outside cycling; (b) kids in the sport (or used to have kids in the sport), (c) a love of the sport and kids in general and (d) most importantly have the impetus to get up and lend a hand.
Don’t get me wrong, the welfare and safety of your child on the road and at the track is your number one responsibility, and that should never be neglected because you, as a parent have volunteered to work in a particular role. All too often I hear some say that by working at an event you are disadvantaging your children. I believe this to be a misconception, and am sure that the opposite is true.
All roles, from being a Commissaire (official) through to working in the canteen and everything in between, will help you as a parent learn more about the sport your children love.
This in itself is an interesting point. Many of the parents know all about football, tennis, netball, soccer, cricket – you name it, because that’s what they did when they were young. But when it comes to bike racing many are complete novices. They generally did not participate in the sport when they were young, and are nowhere near as familiar with the rules or general running of cycling as they are of other sports. Cycling may have been around for a long time, but in comparison to other sports ours is still relatively unknown to the general public.
So what often happens when families are new to the sport is that the child doesn’t know a great deal about it all, nor does the parent when asked for help or advise. This can lead to a fair bit of frustration, misinformation and general confusion. I know this because all too often, I am the person at the end of those questions.
Now you might be thinking that I’m drawing a long bow by trying to insinuate that if you work in the sport you will learn about the sport and become an expert, or that you won’t learn anything about the sport if you don’t volunteer. In that point you would be correct.
There is no guaranteed link between working and knowing, or between sitting on your butt and not knowing, but it is reasonably common sense that if you get involved with the workings of the sport you will learn something about it.
You will also get quite a bit of enjoyment from whatever it is that you do. Surprisingly, even though we might sound like we’re cranky and frustrated at times, we really enjoy working at a bike event, being involved with the kids and a great bunch of parents, and generally enjoying the companionship of a very large number of people all with a common interest.
So enough of the grand story … just what it is you can do?
There are three main areas of involvement in cycling:
All clubs need Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, Public Officers, Commissaires and a few other positions, if you are able to fill them. These are really administrative roles. Becoming a president in your first year is ill advised, it’s a tough job…but it’s about getting involved somewhere to kick things off.
Like all volunteer work, you should look to be involved in something you enjoy and already have some skills in. No one ever asks me to get involved in balancing the books, but my skills lie in the areas of organisation and running things, so I focus on those areas.
Key administrations jobs to begin with when starting out are becoming a Committee member or helping at the sign-on desk. You don’t need to be overly skilled, or have done it before. The crux of this job is being organised, and willing to put in a few hours of your own time after work during the week or on race day.
Road Course, Track Setup, Holders
If you have skills in putting out signs and moving equipment around then helping setup a road course or track equipment is a valuable asset you can bring to your club.
Some physical labour is involved in getting bike races up and running. This work doesn’t require a lot of effort when many chip in to help, but for one or two people it is damned hard work. This is a good time to reiterate that you can never have too many volunteers. I can’t recall a time I have ever been turned away when I walked up to the person in charge and said: “What can I do to help?”
Setup sees volunteers doing everything from setting up road signs, arranging pit areas and seating at the track, running the canteen, sweeping loose debris from corners and any extra maintenance that might be needed. Then at the end of the day it all needs to be packed away. This is not just a helter skelter chuck it in the bin affair as most clubs have very specialised and organised ways of handling and storing their gear, but if you ask to help you will be welcomed, and once you have learnt the ropes you won’t need to ask again.
On the track we always need volunteers to hold riders at the start line or for handicap starts. This is an easy job but does require a quick demo and is always appreciated when we have people ready to put their hand up to help.
Becoming a Commissaire (official)
This is the one that parents find the most daunting … being out there making decisions and working in front of everyone, possibly making mistakes and feeling somewhat pressured regarding your performance. Almost everyone thinks they don’t know what to do, and can’t possibly help in this regard.
This is probably the biggest secret. No one knows what to do as an Commissaire the first time. But when the day comes when you are prepared to walk out on centre stage, you will be shown what to do, guided throughout the event and importantly, you will be appreciated for ‘putting your hand up’.
Being a Commissaire is probably one of the most rewarding jobs, and generally you only work in short stints. That’s the nature of the sport. We’ll also ensure that you’re comfortable in the role. A beginner official will usually begin working in rider marshalling, race timing or observing. Rider marshalling in particular is a lot of fun as you get to interact with and learn who your riders are. The only requirements are a nice loud voice.
Being on the finish line has a few more roles, and requires more instruction…once you decide you want to be a little more involved, becoming an accredited Commissaire where you can take on more ‘senior’ roles involves attending a training course and working alongside other experienced Commissaires to learn the ropes.
There is a major upside to becoming a volunteer and learning about the sport your children have chosen to do.
You will find a common language to communicate with your kids about the thing they love doing, and that’s a benefit not to be sneezed at. You will gain knowledge of the sport and be able to help and advise your child. You will also meet a great bunch of people and have a fantastic time while at the same time benefiting both your own child and all participants within the sport.
So think about getting involved … it’s rewarding in more ways than you think. Call me to find out what you can do or come and see us at an event and ask what you can do to help. We will really appreciate it!
Kilkenny Cycling Club, Inc.
m: 0409 670 621
(adapted and re-written to suit road and track cycling, from an article written by Neil Cameron, BMX Australia – June 2017)