The Power of Volunteering

By Ashley Johnson, Head Coach, Alma College  @AlmaScotsWLAX

Are you looking for a way to bring your team together, avoid player burnout, and help your players become better human beings that appreciate all that they are given? Community service is the answer! I know lacrosse season is upon us and our time over the next couple of months will be limited… but hear me out!

    Photo courtesy of Alma College Athletics.

Lacrosse has given us all so much and it is important that we pay it forward and encourage our players to do the same. For my players at Alma College, involvement in community service has been transformative in many ways. It has strengthened their bonds with each other, has given them a common goal outside of lacrosse, and it has caused them to challenge their beliefs and perceptions of the community and world around them.

Last year, our lacrosse team at Alma College served over 740 hours – which resulted in our team being named the IWLCA Team Community Awareness award winner for Division III. Throughout the year, in addition to our team service projects, each of our players does community service on their own with different organizations that they are passionate about. Last year, our lacrosse team made service a focal point of our spring break trip. One of our players took the lead and reached out to different agencies in the city that we were visiting. During our days between games we volunteered our time organizing goods at a food pantry, cleaning cots and interacting with guests at a homeless shelter, as well as making dog toys and socializing with animals at an animal shelter. Outside of playing lacrosse, this was my players’ favorite part of our spring break trip and they have insisted that we continue this tradition each year.

Volunteering doesn’t have to be a large time commitment. An example is a small project we did last year with our entire athletic department – we organized all of Alma’s athletic teams to put together 60 necessity bags for a women’s shelter. My players really enjoyed this project because it was a chance to get all the student-athletes involved in a cause that they care about.

There are so many ways that all of us are able to give of our time and resources within our communities. The key to having your players really find joy in volunteering is to find a group or a cause that your team is passionate about – it could be working with children, the elderly, animals, the environment, etc. There are so many options!

If you want your team to get involved but don’t know where to start, use your on campus resources. At Alma College we have an excellent community engagement coordinator that helps keep everyone on campus informed of the weekly needs in our local community. Additionally, our campus has recently begun using an app called Helper Helper. This app allows each team, club, campus group or individual to track their number of service hours as well as being able to post different service opportunities that are in need of volunteers. This app has increased the amount of service logged across our entire campus.

Service opportunities aren’t limited to college-age athletes and it’s never too early to get started. For those that are involved in coaching outside of the college game, I would encourage you to get your youth, club, middle school, and high school teams involved in service. The hope would be that when they get to college, and life after college, they are more likely to continue seeing the need and the value of their commitment to others. Having your team participate in one service initiative each month, or even one each semester will be beneficial.  Our student-athletes, as well as our communities, will benefit from coaches helping to make service a normal part of our athletes’ lives.

The changes from my first season where volunteerism was introduced as a pillar of our program until now have been heartwarming to see. The players now take it upon themselves to seek out service opportunities because they see the difference that they are making in the lives of others. I believe that participating in service has resulted in them truly appreciating all the experiences they are  part of as student-athletes. Ultimately, volunteering allows them to see that life is bigger than an exam or a lacrosse game and that each individual is capable of changing someone’s life for the better.

If you have any questions or need some ideas to get started, please feel free to reach out, I’d love to help in any way that I can. My email address is: JohnsonAA@alma.edu

Good luck this season!

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