Where Did All the Parent Volunteers Go?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

There’s been a downward trend in volunteerism the past decade. Each year we have fewer and fewer parents stepping up to help youth sports, schools or other community programs.

According to Todd Conrad, Mission Viejo Nadadores General Manager, “I serve on a board of our community’s youth sports teams and they are concerned about the lack of volunteers. The same number of parents are in the stands watching soccer, tennis, etc. but they aren’t volunteering.”

He said Little League doesn’t have enough parent volunteers to host a snack bar. Like many other swim clubs, the Nadadores have a mandatory service policy, and Conrad said they have no shortage of parent volunteers on their team.

In a 2015 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics about volunteer rates in the United States, 24.9% of the U.S. population over the age of 16 volunteered at least once in the past year. In 2011, this percentage was 26.8%, and in 2005 it was 28.8%.

Without the help of all parents, teams couldn’t pull off a successful meet—which is how many teams stay afloat financially. In some areas of the country, officials are paid, while others rely on parent volunteers. Without officials, there can’t be a meet, either. Many teams require volunteers to put in a certain number of hours at each meet or face fines. It’s not to make money, but more of a plea to get all hands on deck.

Here are a few ideas to recruit and retain volunteers on your team:


Get personal.

Personally reach out to individuals to ask them to volunteer. If everything is done online or through a flyer—the number of volunteers will be less. It’s easy to ignore emails and people may believe that someone else will step up and they don’t have to. It’s harder to ignore a one-on-one request.


Be specific.

One of the reasons why people don’t volunteer is that they’re unsure of what’s required of them. And sometimes it takes too much effort on their part to get information. By spelling out exactly the job and amount of time, it will make it clearer for potential volunteers.


Recognize and appreciate.

Having a coach or parent board recognize the many parent volunteers for their hard work will go a long way in retaining volunteers. In addition to a personal word of gratitude, a thank you on FaceBook, a team’s newsletter or annual awards for volunteers are a few ideas to show the team’s appreciation.


Be inclusive.

Newer parents may be intimidated because they’re unfamiliar with swim meets in general. Also, many parents who have been on deck for years don’t mean to be cliquey, but they enjoy their long-standing friendships. They may not realize that new parents may feel like they’re on the outside looking in. Have longtime parents who are amazing at welcoming newer parents reach out and help them become part of the team.

Do you think teams should have mandatory volunteer hours and why do you believe fewer parents are volunteering today?

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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I don’t have any empirical evidence to site on this, but perhaps parents are just spread too thin these days with high pressure club sports. Young families have seen their disposable income fall (especially when compared with the parents of the 80/90’s) while various costs – including club sports and travel – have gone up. So perhaps some of those “lost volunteers” are really just busy trying to make ends meet, while still keeping their kids involved in as many extra-curricular activities to stay competitive against others with the ways and means to do it all. Perhaps that is a little to politicized of an answer to the question, but I sense there is come correlation.


I disagree that disposable incomes have fallen. Disposable incomes have risen. As a result more parents choose the volunteer buyout. Pay enough money and you don’t have to volunteer.

Steve Nolan

Disposable incomes have risen!?

Well, maybe among the one percenters that can afford to swim. I take it back, you’re right.


Become enlightened. From https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/disposable-personal-income

Disposable Personal Income in the United States increased to 15520.43 USD Billion in June from 14929.76 USD Billion in May of 2018. Disposable Personal Income in the United States averaged 5126.98 USD Billion from 1959 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 15520.43 USD Billion in June of 2018 and a record low of 351.90 USD Billion in January of 1959.


It probably depends upon where you live. Some places have more income and some don’t. Mission Viejo according to the US census in the past three years lost population and is getting older. Not certain if that has an impac upon parents or grand parents volunterring.


Well if they can’t get to their kid’s meets because they are working then you have a point. If they are at the meet, sitting in the stands for club meets, or in lawn chairs for summer league meets, and never step up to time, be a tent parent, etc. then being spread too thin does not apply.


Great story to get people talking. I myself dislike “mandates” but unfortunately it has come to this. The loss of volunteers isn’t just in the swim community. Ask the Lions Club, Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club how their membership is – remember they are “service” clubs whose goal is to serve the community. I found recruiting parents to volunteer to serve in Scouting or PTA to be a challenge as well. Our swim club went to a policy that said volunteer or we will ask you to pay $100, we had families who would rather part with $100 instead of spending a few hours volunteering. Your point on the personal ask is right. It is much harder to turn down… Read more »

SumTing Wong

This is a time capsule of the 1980s .I think 2018 is a very different world for instance it seems odd to me that a bunch of random school kids can go ‘play with ‘ look after unknown little kids . Small children are very difficult everywhere especially in the near presence of water . Or that adults would open themselves up to accusations of abuse by even interacting with under 18s . I admire coaches & volunteers , for one hand on the shoulder , one glance too long , one stray camera shot ,one consolation , one verbal discipline can wreck your life. I will have to re assess the situation should any grandkids do sport . However… Read more »


I think the rise of dual income households leads to a lot of this. People just don’t have the time. Personally, I’m thankful that I can support my family of four on one income and that my wife is able to stay home and be as involved as she is in various PTO, community, school, and youth sports organizations. I’m also involved as an official both in high school and USA Swimming, but I have a job that doesn’t require me to travel a lot or put in more than the standard 40 hour week. Many friends and relatives that live in other parts of the country tend to need two incomes just to pay the bills and there just… Read more »