Kid Volunteers? Yes, No Or Maybe?


By Paul Peavy

The more volunteers the merrier, right? The more enthusiastic the volunteers the better, right? Kids can be a big help for a sporting event. But the most important role of a volunteer is to do the assigned job—as assigned. And certainly, they should do no harm.

Well, at a recent state championship swim meet, the kids in the volunteer roles of timers indeed did some harm. They could not keep up with the hectic and crazy pace of a swim meet as timers, which meant assuring the correct swimmer was in their correct lane in the correct event and correct heat. Then settling in and hearing the starter’s call and pushing the stopwatch button in synchronization with the starting strobe light, keeping up with the correct number of laps of that race and then standing to watch for the swimmer’s touch of the wall and pushing both the stopwatch and an electronic plunger. Then, within a few seconds writing down the recorded times and starting the whole process over again. Oh, yeah, and do this for a few hours at a time without a break.

They insisted on telling a swimmer this was not her heat. The swimmer knew she was right and persisted in telling them she was up next. The young timers insisted they were correct and told the swimmer it was not her turn. When the swimmers were taking to the starting blocks and no one was in her lane, the timers realized their mistake. The swimmer tried to rush to the block but the officials would not allow her on the block. After much frustration and appealing the officials agreed to let the swimmer swim in a later heat. The swimmer was flustered and her timing for her warm up was all messed up.

When doing triathlons and other distance events the view of some really cute kids dressed up and dancing around is always a fun sight but I don’t think it’s fair to a child or an athlete to put a child in a position of sole responsibility. When kids are at aid stations in running and triathlon events there are always adults there to handle unusual situations and understand special needs.

I am sure those kids felt bad for messing up the swimmer’s six months of training, but they were put in an adult situation because it was easier to simply fill in roles that way. A fair enough compromise would have been for one adult and one child in to be positioned in each lane instead of two kids.

I love hearing kids take the microphone, hand out water and cheer, but in your events I think you strongly need to consider what could go wrong in having kids in positions of responsibilities without any supervision. Let kids be kids and bring their sense of joy to your events. Let the adults be the ones responsible for the boring, technical aspects that are crucial for your athletes’ results.

Paul Peavy is a licensed mental health therapist as well as an athlete and parent of an athlete.,