Prep Sports

Looking for something to do? Try volunteering

Justis column: Young athletes can learn a lot by helping others

Young athletes looking for something to do when they are shutdown could volunteer and many places, like these junior hig
Young athletes looking for something to do when they are shutdown could volunteer and many places, like these junior high students in 2016, helping in the Defenders of Land and Water Program’s community service day in North Liberty. Students and other volunteers spent about 2,000 service hours picking up trash, clearing brush and planting trees. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

We are 10 months into a global pandemic.

Though there are hopeful signs of vaccines in the near future that will bring this 2020 nightmare to an eventual end, there remain ebbs and flows for every facet of our lives.

Sports is just one area of our existence that has been affected. All levels of sports have been canceled, postponed, with delayed starts and renewed shutdowns. Youth sports have particularly been affected, with more cancellations or shutdowns than other levels.

If your youth team still is idle or has seen starts and stops, there are ways players can experience togetherness, competing or not. They can and should give back to their community.

Many of us just participated in Giving Tuesday, a national day devoted to philanthropy. This Christmas is a season of giving.

Why should teams use this idle time to give back? Because individuals will learn the importance of helping others. The experience can make them feel better about themselves and boost their mental outlook if they are depressed about this situation. In addition, the experience looks good on college applications and to coaches who like well-rounded individuals.

Simply put, giving back in whatever format is a nice thing to do.

There are obvious paths to giving back, such as holding fundraisers for another organization, like a bake sale or car wash. Players can volunteer time at nonprofit organizations or help someone who needs assistance with walking their dog, raking leaves or shoveling snow. Athletes can use their own abilities to help coach or mentor younger players, which I wrote about in the previous column. Gifting money or clothes to a worthy cause is just one other opportunity.

Athletes are role models, particularly to younger players who want to follow in their “idols’” footsteps. They already are giving back by being good examples — not showing anger when something doesn’t go their way, like a bad call; winning or losing with grace, and showing sportsmanship with teammates or the other teams.

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Volunteering at local charities, such as at a local youth center or with a sports league, show younger kids the importance of giving back.

No matter what age the athlete, he or she has experiences and knowledge to pass on — the skills learned from playing the sport, taking lessons, attending camp. Lessons learned in their personal life, such as staying out of trouble and picking the right friends are important, as are things learned in school, such as study tips.

What more can the volunteer receive from the experience? The feeling of doing good things for others, seeing the look of gratitude on people’s faces. Volunteering at places you really enjoy, such as building houses if you like working with your hands or delivering meals to those in need. Volunteering also can expose you to new things where you might find new passions.

Coaches and parents, ask your athletes and children what they are passionate about and then help with the specifics. Let the kids brainstorm for ideas. Then make sure your giving back idea is actually serving a need in the community. Doing research and making decisions is an important part of the giving back process.

Many pet shelters allow kids to read to the animals or interact in other ways. Do they need food or other donations? How about picking up trash during hikes in parks. This gets the kids outside in fresh air and provides exercise during a shutdown.

Other ideas might include helping seniors in assisted living facilities learn how to protect themselves from cybercrime through videos or Zoom meetings. Seniors also love hearing from pen pals through notes or Zoom.

A unique opportunity exists through SciStarter, a product of the National Science Foundation that offers many research projects through which kids can observe their environment and report back with data.

Volunteering opportunities are as vast and varied as your own passions. The benefits are far reaching. Give it a shot with your team.

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Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at njustis@cfu.net

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