The happy scene: how volunteering can work for you
From giving your confidence a boost to belonging to a tribe, volunteering is a positive feedback loop in action
Forgoing the snug warmth of the duvet to haul yourself out of bed and stand on a windswept junction with a lollipop for a few hours might sound like a sacrifice (other volunteering jobs are available, of course), but while we make much of the noble idea of 'giving back' to the sport, there are a number of benefits to be enjoyed through volunteering.
As we continue with our campaign to encourage people to sign up to give back, we spoke to sport psychologist Dr Josephine Perry, author of the 10 Pillars of Success, who described five different benefits with a reach and a depth well beyond cycling and sport.
For starters, it's a great confidence builder, Dr Perry says, because it allows you to try new things without undue pressure.
"Often it's the baby steps you need to try something out that you wouldn't be able to get in, say, a paid role," she says. "But also, you wouldn't feel confident enough to jump into a paid role where you feel like there's a ton of responsibility that comes with it. But as a volunteer, you feel like there's less of those expectations and pressures, so you can take steps into trying new things."
Secondly, volunteering offers the same dopamine rush you might usually associate with completing a hard ride — showing that you're not missing out as much as may have thought when you forgo your weekend race to help out instead.
"But actually [as a volunteer] you're going to get a similar rush when somebody comes up and thank you afterwards," says Dr Perry. "Or when a peloton goes past you and you're standing out in the middle of the road directing people and somebody yells out 'thanks', you get that similar rush."
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Dr Perry's third benefit might be the most important one; it creates the sense of belonging we all strive for — helping cement us as a key part of the tribe.
"Belonging provides a foundation for success but also makes the process of attaining success more enjoyable," Dr Perry says. "You need what we call psychological safety. You need to feel comfortable in the team you're working with."
Once you have this, she says, you feel secure enough to move forward, perhaps taking more risks than you otherwise might, safe in the knowledge that others have your back if you need them.
Five reasons to volunteer
Confidence - try new things at your pace with a supportive group around you
Feel good factor - get that dopamine rush by making things happen
Build belonging - tribes are important to us all, and you don't have to be a lightweight watt-monster to be in the cycling tribe
Connect with others - it's not a lone pursuit so a great way to meet people
Develop skills - from judging to time keeping to applying the rules - who knows where they could take you
Another key takeaway for those who volunteer are the connections they make with others.
"We have that fundamental need to feel connected, to feel part of something bigger," Dr Perry explains.
"We know that humans are designed to be part of groups… it helps us feel more motivated towards things, it helps us feel protected," she explains. "And so that connection with others that we can get from volunteering, it's really beneficial."
Finally, Dr Perry says, volunteering can help us develop our skills; whether that's learning something new that you might not have been brave enough to tackle alone, or mastering the ones that we might already have.
"When we start to develop mastery, which was one of the pillars in my book, it gives us a feeling of, 'Oh, I'm good at this, I can do something!' That gives us confidence, and we start to realise we can do other things, too."
Volunteering can clearly offer us a great deal, but it's not quite a silver bullet, cautions Dr Perry. It's important to do things on your own terms and not take on more than you feel comfortable with: "You don't want volunteering to add stresses into someone's life that they don't have the capacity to handle," she points out.
You might also find the most enjoyment by matching any volunteering roles to your personality, Dr Perry says.
"Some people may hate the thought of having to do things in a group," she points out. "They would love their volunteering to be, sorting out the data at the end of a race, for example. Other people might hate that, and they want to be there on a race track with other people."
Thankfully there are many different volunteering roles on offer, suited to different lifestyles and personalities, so you should be able to find something that suits you as a way of not just giving back to the sport, but rewarding yourself too.
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Dr Josephine Perry is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist whose purpose is to help people discover the metrics which matter most to them so they are able to accomplish more than they had previously believed possible. She integrates expertise in sport psychology and communications to support athletes, stage performers and business leaders to develop the approaches, mental skills and strategies which will help them achieve their ambitions. Josephine has written five books including Performing Under Pressure, The 10 Pillars of Success and I Can: The Teenage Athlete’s Guide to Mental Fitness. For Cycling Weekly she tends to write about the psychological side of training and racing and how to manage mental health issues which may prevent brilliant performance. At last count she owned eight bikes and so is a passionate advocate of the idea that the ideal number of bikes to own is N+1.
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