Volunteers Will Surprise You
Updated: Jul 27
One of my favorite passages of fiction is from The Fellowship of the Ring, as Frodo Baggins is wrestling with the responsibility that has landed at his feet. Gandalf explains the gravity of the situation to Frodo carefully: the ring he has inherited is in fact dangerous, that evil forces know that it is in his possession and are searching for him, and that should those forces prevail the world will be changed for the worse. Frodo's response is entirely relatable.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Frodo never wanted The Ring and certainly not the responsibility of having to destroy it. In fact he wishes the events of the story didn't even occur in his lifetime. Gandalf is understanding yet firm; nobody wants to but the only choice we really have is how to react to the hand that is dealt to us. Do we rise to the occasion or do we cower in fear? Do we accept the reality that confronts us or do we live in denial?
While we don't face the embodiment of pure evil in youth soccer, we certainly face significant challenges. Clubs with low standards but high tuition, aimless training, and ceaseless travel are what parents find when looking for a place for their player to train and learn. Consider these questions: how often do youth soccer clubs display a clear style of play across multiple teams? How often does a youth club provide a clear pathway for their players to advance to higher levels? How often do these clubs seem like an actual club, where people are like family? The answer is rarely, if ever. It shouldn't be this way, but it is. The question for all of us isn't "why is this happening to us or why doesn't somebody fix this?" The only question is "what will we do with the time that is given to us?"
Flagstaff Revolution's answer is to pick up the ring and begin marching. We do this through our volunteer staff and coaches.
Every once in a while somebody will remark to me that "all the Revolution coaches are volunteers and not professionals". While I certainly understand the desire for one's child to be coached by professionals I am also hesitant to downplay what volunteers can accomplish. Just in the past two months Flagstaff Revolution has partnered with Jared Montz from Online Soccer Academy and Club Deportivo Mac Allister from Argentina. Both of these connections were made by volunteers. These are people with legitimate professional experience playing and coaching and they're helping us bridge the gap between our grassroots club and the highest levels of the game.
Marina Canavoso and Stephen Rossi are two volunteers who simply cold called professional clubs in Argentina until they were able to establish a connection and partnership. Now, Revolution players have had the chance to train with their coaches here in Flagstaff with invites to train in Argentina as well. Volunteers have created a pathway for our players to play at the top levels in Argentina. That's certainly a long road but that road now exists because of the efforts and skill of volunteers.
Jane and Ben Becher made a business connection that later led to the partnership with Jared Montz—a former professional player. Our players then had the opportunity to train with him personally. Nobody paid them, nobody mandated they do it a certain way. It was their own effort and ingenuity that transformed an idea into reality.
Jon Bordwell hadn't coached at a very high level prior to joining Revolution but caught the vision early. He implemented the club philosophy perhaps better than any other coach in the club (myself included) and now his 2013 Boys are one of the strongest teams not only in our club but in Northern Arizona.
Roger Lohr is one of my favorite volunteers. When his daughter's age group was without a coach, he volunteered to step in. He was open with his lack of experience with the game, but willing to work. Now his team is a cohesive family that plays well and has made it to several finals—surely with a championship right around the corner.
These are just a few examples of outstanding volunteers: there are plenty of other people who coach great teams, organize registration, design and order uniforms, etc.
What I love is that these volunteers have leaned on their own unique and innate strengths to make things happen. Revolution simply provides resources and freedom to enable them. Coaching soccer and running a soccer club involve more than just rubber stamp licensing from US Soccer. We provide these coaches and volunteers with top-level education materials that have been used at the highest levels of the game across the world. Some of these materials include TOVO, 3four3, and Coerver. These resources help volunteers who are bought in to achieve great results. Those results are only partially measured in wins; we use other paradigms to measure our results as well. Do teams play a coherent style? Do players actually get better? Does the club feel like an extended family? Are people encouraged to get involved and utilize their unique expertise to further the success of the club?
It is my view that when empowered, volunteers will get the job done because they're ready to work hard--they may just need some direction and encouragement. I guess my thoughts on volunteers are similar to Gandalf's thoughts on Hobbits:
" Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, and yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you at a pinch."
Where some people write them off as "less-than" and quaint, I am truly and consistently surprised at how much volunteers can accomplish.
Just for fun, here is the dramatized version of the aforementioned scene from Lord of the Rings.